In 2008, researchers discovered that adult mice harbor pancreatic stem cells. When the mice suffered pancreatic injury, they would make a chemical called “neurogenin-3” that made these stem cells turn into fully functional insulin-producing beta-cells, the kind of cells that are damaged in type 1 diabetes. This led researchers to consider the possibility that we might be able to treat type 1 diabetes not only with pancreatic stem cell transplants but more simply by providing humans with factors that will “turn on” the stem cells and make them convert into new insulin-producing cells.
What types of factors might do this?
Good ol’ vitamins A and D!
Chinese researchers from Hong Kong recently published a paper in Stem Cell Reviews and Reports showing that vitamins A and D cooperate with one another to turn on neurogenin-3 in human pancreatic stem cells. They also provided a new mechanism for vitamin A and D interactions: they found that each vitamin increased the production of the other’s receptor!
What’s more, they even provided a brief defense of cod liver oil at the end of their article, and cited my 2009 article “The Cod Liver Oil Debate: Science Validates the Benefits of Our Number One Superfood.”
The researchers were not trying to develop nutritional therapies to cure or treat type 1 diabetes. Instead, they were trying to develop strategies to make stem cell therapy a reality. They obtained human fetal stem cells by a procedure approved by their Clinical Research Ethics Committee. Unfortunately, many of us will still harbor ethical discomforts with this procedure; nevertheless, if humans do in fact possess pancreatic stem cells into adulthood like mice do, the discoveries may provide us with the hope of preventing, treating, or even curing type 1 diabetes without the use of fetal tissue.
As we see in this first figure, neither vitamin A nor vitamin D turned on the cell’s “neurogenin-3” switch when provided alone, but when provided together they caused a dramatic increase in this pancreatic regeneration molecule.
Figure 7b from Ng et al., Stem Cell Rev and Rep, 2010, Epub ahead of print, March 31, 2010.
Stem cells can either use their energy to reproduce or to turn into fully functional cells. When either vitamin was provided by itself, the stem cells started reproducing; the above graph showing that the neurogenin “switch” was turned on suggests that when the vitamins were provided together, the stem cells instead began turning into functional insulin-producing cells, or at least that they began laying the biochemical groundwork for this conversion to take place.
In the next figure, we see a remarkable new piece of information: each vitamin stimulates the production of its partner’s receptor!
Figure 6a and 6b from Ng et al., Stem Cell Rev and Rep, 2010, Epub ahead of print, March 31, 2010.
The control, treated with neither vitamin, is on the left. The cells treated with vitamin A are shown in the middle and those treated with vitamin D are shown in the right. In the top picture we see the effect on vitamin A’s receptor, and in the bottom picture we see the effect on vitamin D’s receptor. Unsurprisingly, each vitamin stimulated the production of its own receptor. Remarkably, however, vitamin D caused a 3-fold increase in the production of vitamin A’s recpetor and vitamin A caused a 3-fold increase in vitamin D’s receptor!
Why would the vitamin D receptor be specifically regulated by vitamin A and why would vitamin A’s receptor be specifically regulated by vitamin D if these two vitamins were not intended to function in a cooperative fashion? These results provide new evidence that vitamins A and D are not enemies but are in fact, to anthropomorphize them in a fun way, eternal soul mates.
The authors concluded that if it were confirmed that the increased neurogenin seen with the combined vitamin treatment reflects an increased conversion of stem cells to functional insulin-producing cells, “this would imply that the policy of giving vitamin D supplement alone in pregnancy instead of cod liver oil would need adjustment. Cod-liver oil, as natural supplement of vitamin A and vitamin D, is well known for its beneficial effects on the growth of infants and children [45-49].”
Reference 45 is my Wise Traditions article, “The Cod Liver Oil Debate: Science Validates the Benefits of Our Number One Superfood.” References 46-49 are four experimental studies conducted between 1937 and 1985 that I have cited in my articles showing that vitamins A and D protect against each other’s toxicity.
This paper provides powerful new experimental evidence that vitamins A an dD cooperate with one another as a synergistic pair, and provides a further example showing that the Weston A. Price Foundation’s work is being slowly acknowledged by the scientific community and incorporated into scientific research.
Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.