Vitamin D and Retinopathy: Is There a Connection?

Could a lack of the sunshine vitamin (otherwise known as vitamin D) put you at greater risk for developing diabetic retinopathy? A recent article from Endocrinology Advisor presented research that suggests vitamin D deficiency may be linked to diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the microvascular complications of diabetes. It is a type of eye disease affecting the retina which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In the United States diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness for individuals 20-64 years old. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report from 2014 (put out by the CDC-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • In 2005–2008: 4.2 million (28.5%) adults with diabetes 40 years or older had diabetic retinopathy.

How often should I be screened for diabetic retinopathy?

  • The 2015 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommend the following:
    • “Patients with type 2 diabetes should have an initial dilated and comprehensive eye examination by an ophthalmologist or optometrist shortly after the diagnosis of diabetes.”
    • “If there is no evidence of retinopathy for one or more eye exams, then exams every 2 years may be considered. If diabetic retinopathy is present, subsequent examinations for patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes should be repeated annually by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. If retinopathy is progressing or sight-threatening, then examinations will be required more frequently. “

Who is at increased risk for developing retinopathy?

  • Longer diabetes duration
  • Chronically elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia)/elevated A1c (Results from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) showed that intensive glycemic control reduced the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by 76 percent.)
  • Hypertension
  • Those with nephropathy (kidney disease)
  • Those with vitamin D deficiency (more research is needed in this area)

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

  • Individuals with darker skin and limited sun exposure are at an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency.
  • Diets that limit milk and certain conditions (such as liver and kidney disease) may also increase your risk for vitamin D deficiency.

What blood test is done to test for vitamin D deficiency?

  • The 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D) blood test is the most accurate way to test for vitamin D deficiency.
  • Results of the test will help your physician determine if you require additional vitamin supplementation (above the recommended daily allowance, which is 600 IU/day for those aged 1-70)

What are the best food sources of Vitamin D?

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. For that reason many foods are fortified with vitamin D.

  • Foods naturally high in vitamin D:
  • Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
  • Fish liver oil
  • Smaller amounts of vitamin D are also found in:
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D:
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Some juices
    • Some cereals
    • Some milk alternatives (i.e. soy milk, almond milk)
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