Can a Vitamin Prevent Type 1?

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By: Sharon Kellaher

B vitamins may prove to be more helpful than we thought they were. According to scientists, one B vitamin, niacin, also known as nicotinamide or B3, could even prevent type 1 diabetes.

In studies, nicotinamide has delayed the onset of type 1 diabetes, but the key to using it in real life isn’t there yet.

Nicotinamide seems to protect beta cells from damage by free radicals and nitric oxide. When given in studies to people recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, nicotinamide has helped preserve beta cell function for as long as one year after diagnosis.

Little by little, evidence is growing about nicotinamide. In 1996, doctors at a London hospital’s diabetes department said that nicotinamide “has for many years been known to protect beta cells against a variety of noxious stimuli.” When used on recently diagnosed type 1s, they say, “benefits have been marginal or absent,” but that it could help those at high risk for type 1 but not yet diagnosed. “Promising pilot studies have been performed,” they report, in “positive first-degree relatives and schoolchildren” who test positive for islet cell antibodies, which are part of the autoimmune process that destroys beta cells in type 1 diabetes.

With these positive signs, doctors are now conducting studies to determine how nicotinamide will fit in the search for a cure.

Currently, German doctors are conducting nicotinamide studies at several centers, in the Deutsch Nicotinamide Intervention Study, called “an attempt to prevent type 1 diabetes.” These studies hope to shed some light on whether or not children at risk of developing type 1 diabetes can take high doses of nicotinamide and, thus, never get diabetes.

The June 1998 issue of Diabetes shows the results of one of these studies, which don’t look good for prevention. People at “high risk” were those whose siblings had type 1. The high risk people were given either a placebo treatment or nicotinamide supplements, and the researchers conclude that “nicotinamide treatment did not cause a major decrease or delay of diabetes development.”

The researchers’ final conclusion is that more possibilities exist for nicotinamide, and further trials throughout the world will give more evidence.

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