The prevalence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) is rising steadily. A potential contributor to the rise is vitamin D. In this systematic review, we examined the literature around vitamin D and T1D. We identified 22 papers examining the role of vitamin D in cultured β-cell lines, islets, or perfused pancreas, and 28 papers examining vitamin D in humans or human islets. The literature reports strong associations between T1D and low circulating vitamin D. There is also high-level (systematic reviews, meta-analyses) evidence that adequate vitamin D status in early life reduces T1D risk. Several animal studies, particularly in NOD mice, show harm from D-deficiency and benefit in most studies from vitamin D treatment/supplementation. Short-term streptozotocin studies show a β-cell survival effect with supplementation. Human studies report associations between VDR polymorphisms and T1D risk and β-cell function, as assessed by C-peptide. In view of those outcomes, the variable results in human trials are generally disappointing. Most studies using 1,25D, the active form of vitamin D were ineffective. Similarly, studies using other forms of vitamin D were predominantly ineffective. However, it is interesting to note that all but one of the studies testing 25D reported benefit. Together, this suggests that maintenance of optimal circulating 25D levels may reduce the risk of T1D and that it may have potential for benefits in delaying the development of absolute or near-absolute C-peptide deficiency. Given the near-complete loss of β-cells by the time of clinical diagnosis, vitamin D is much less likely to be useful after disease-onset. However, given the very low toxicity of 25D, and the known benefits of preservation of C-peptide positivity for long-term complications risk, we recommend considering daily cholecalciferol supplementation in people with T1D and people at high risk of T1D, especially if they have vitamin D insufficiency.
Keywords: C-peptide; beta-cell; insulin; type 1 diabetes; vitamin D; vitamin D receptor.