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Nutrient - D is for diabetic heart health

By Holly Taylor BSc (Hons) DipCNM MBANT

According to findings in a recent study by American scientists, vitamin D may help to reduce the build-up of cholesterol in blood vessels. This is particularly important news for diabetics, who are at a much higher risk of heart disease because they have difficulties in properly processing cholesterol.

When excess cholesterol is present in the body, it can be deposited in the arteries. Special immune cells, called macrophages, help munch up cholesterol but, if there is too much, they become clogged up and can’t get rid of it. This results in the macrophage getting stuck in the deposited cholesterol and becoming something called a foam cell. Foam cell formation is thought to be a contributing factor in cholesterol blocking and stiffening the arteries. This problem is worse in diabetics because they are more prone to high cholesterol and their macrophages have a tendency to overeat. The reason scientists have recently become interested in vitamin D is because it helps to reduce cholesterol uptake by macrophage cells, stopping them becoming foam cells.

To demonstrate this, the researchers obtained macrophage cells from both diabetic and healthy people. When they exposed the cells to cholesterol without vitamin D, the macrophages quickly became foam cells. When vitamin D was present in adequate amounts, the macrophages’ uptake of cholesterol was reduced and they didn’t turn into foam cells. The researchers think that it may be possible to delay or reverse some of the blood vessel problems in diabetics by helping them to achieve healthy vitamin D levels. 

Article References

Bernal-Mizrachi C et al. (2009) 1,25 (OH) vitamin D inhibits foam cell formation and suppresses macrophage cholesterol uptake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Circulation. 120 (8) pp.687-698

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