This Vitamin Deficiency May Be Causing a Diabetes Epidemic
Diabetes is a chronic illness where the body’s ability to metabolize sugars malfunctions. It afflicts millions of people—both adults and children—worldwide. A groundbreaking study performed by researchers from New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, has unlocked the secret to vitamin A’s role in diabetes.
Vitamin A deficiency is more common than you think. According to Jennifer Brett, N.D. vitamin A deficiency is common in the United States among low-income groups. In addition, people who eat very-low-fat diets and who limit their consumption of liver, dairy foods and dark green vegetables, and those who experience fat malabsorption from conditions like celiac disease or infectious hepatitis can also become deficient in vitamin A.
Diabetes has Reached Epidemic Proportions
According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from diabetes, and a quarter of those don’t even know they have it (you can get familiar with these 13 early warning signs of diabetes you shouldn’t ignore).
Diabetes may be type 1, once called juvenile diabetes, or type 2, also known as adult-onset diabetes. However, in recent years more younger people have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and a recent study may have the key to answering the burning question: Why?
Vitamin A and Diabetes – the Connection
In a groundbreaking rodent study performed by researchers from New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, scientists unlocked the secret to vitamin A’s role in diabetes.
The data, published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, showed that vitamin A plays a pivotal role in maintaining proper function of beta cells in the pancreas. These cells are crucial in keeping blood glucose at an optimal level, and they become dysfunctional in people with type 2 diabetes.1, 2
When the rodents in the study were deprived of vitamin A, their beta cell function plummeted, and when vitamin A was returned to their diets, their beta cell function—and blood glucose levels—returned to normal.
Why Vitamin A Is Crucial
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient—it’s one we need to live, and one we can’t produce on our own. Vitamin A’s ability to bolster cellular function isn’t limited to pancreatic beta cells, it also helps with cellular reproduction for all our bodies’ cells, from skin to internal organs.
Vitamin A is also associated with maintaining sight and preventing blindness, and people who are deficient in vitamin A are more prone to experiencing problems with sight, from dry eyes and near-sightedness (myopia), which is a common cause of blurred vision, to partial blindness and poor night vision.
It is a key nutrient for healthy eyes and is also mentioned in my article on how to naturally improve your eyesight with juicing. Other symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include diarrhea and skin disorders, and this is why it’s one of the top 8 vitamins and nutrients for a gorgeous skin.
It helps speed the healing of wounds, is crucial for reproductive organ function and mucus membrane function, and helps to support the immune system—children with measles had a quicker recovery time compared with their peers when given vitamin A supplements, for example.
In short, the benefits of getting enough vitamin A extend well beyond diabetes treatment and prevention.
Natural Sources of Vitamin A
Vitamin A comes from two sources:
- Retinoids – Come from animal sources.
- Beta-carotene – Come from plant sources.
The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is an organic pigment which has important biological properties, including antioxidant and photo-protective activities.
There are a variety of options when it comes to foods rich in vitamin A. Some are eaten cooked, some are eaten raw, and all are delicious and good for you.
Here are some of the best foods for upping your body’s vitamin A levels:
Cooked sweet potatoes are versatile, allowing for a range of seasoning options. You can make them into dessert or add some spices to make them savory—either way, you’ll be increasing your vitamin A intake when you eat these!
Carrots have long been touted by folk medicine as being great for vision—and now we know why: their high vitamin A content. Boiled and raw carrots both contain substantial amounts of vitamin A.
Dark, leafy greens
Romaine or cos lettuce, spinach and kale all pack a vitamin A punch, whether they are cooked and served hot with supper or consumed raw in a salad. You can also use other leafy greens to improve your health.
Apricots can be eaten either raw or dehydrated for a boost of vitamin A. Eat them straight off the tree or dry them out for a trail mix that’s nutrient-rich and delectable.
Mangoes and melons
These sweet fruits are high in vitamin A in their raw form. You can get vitamin A from cantaloupe and honeydew as well as from mangoes. Eat them in a fruit salad, alone, or blend them into a smoothie for a boost of energy and vitamin A. There are other unbelievable reasons to eat mango.
Many different types of winter squashes (gourds) have vitamin A hiding under their hard shells. So, indulge in butternut squash soup or mash up a pumpkin to add an extra dose of vitamin A to your diet.
Red bell pepper (capsicum)
Sweet red peppers can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed. While also green and yellow peppers contain vitamin A, the red ones are especially packed with carotenoids and contain almost eleven times more beta-carotene than green bell peppers.
How to Increase Vitamin A Absorption
To ensure that you are getting the most out of the vitamin A-rich foods you’re eating, make sure to consume them with healthy dietary fats. These help to increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D, so for example try adding olive oil, avocado or nuts to your salad greens or a teaspoon of olive oil to your soup.
The Effect of Cooking on Vitamin A
I wrote in the past about the best cooking methods to keep the vitamins in food. Vitamin A is relatively stable when exposed to heat. Fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K fare better during cooking.
A report in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry concluded that boiling was better for carrots, zucchini and broccoli than steaming, frying or serving them raw (frying was the worst method for preserving the nutrients).8
But you must remember that while one cooking method may enhance the availability of one nutrient, it can degrade another. For example, boiling carrots significantly increases carotenoid levels compared with raw carrots, but raw carrots have far more vitamin C which is affected by heat.
A Word of Precaution About Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so taking too much of it can be toxic to the body. Unlike water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and the B vitamins), excess vitamin A can’t simply be flushed out in the urine.
Be cautious when supplementing with vitamin A to ensure that you do not exceed the recommended daily limit (about 10,000 IU maximum).
Ideally, a healthy and balanced diet is the best way to get vitamin A into your body, rather than taking chances with supplements in tablet or capsule form.