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SMC nursing professor studies diabetes

Tabitha Ricketts | Monday, December 9, 2013

Results released this week from a Loyola University Chicago study suggest that vitamin D supplements can help decrease pain in women suffering from type-2 diabetes and depression.

Mary Byrn, assistant professor of nursing at Saint Mary’s, was a member of the study’s original research team and said she has been involved in research since graduate school.

“I got involved in that study as a graduate research assistant,” Byrn said. “My area of work is [obstetrics]  – labor and delivery – so since it’s women, it fit into my area.”

Byrn said the study was originally looking at the impact of vitamin D supplements on moods.

The subjects, women with type-2 diabetes and depression whose blood showed vitamin D deficiencies, were examined twice over the six-month supplement intake period, she said. Todd Doyle, a chemical psychology fellow at Loyola, conducted the analysis of the data Byrn and her colleagues gathered, she said.

“In the original study we were really focused on depression, weight and blood pressure,” she said. “We found that the vitamin D for women with type-2 diabetes improved mood, improved depression, improved weight and also decreased pain.”

Byrn said vitamin supplements could have a huge impact on daily health. She said the results of this study could significantly improve the lives of women currently suffering from the symptoms of type-2 diabetes.

“People seem more willing to take a vitamin than a medication, so I think if we can find this to be an effective treatment, people will be more likely to stick to that treatment,” she said.

Loyola researcher Sue Penckofer has been given a $1.49 million grant to conduct further studies into the effects of vitamin D.

According to a Loyola press release, the vitamin D supplements in the study were provided in doses of 50,000 International Units (IU) per week, which averages out to about 7,000 IU per day. Compared to the normal recommendation of 600 IU a day, Byrn said this is a significant increase.

“We work with an endocrinologist and a cardiologist and [50,000 IU is] something they’ll use with their patients when their patients come in with insufficient vitamin D levels,” she said. “They’ll use this 50,000 to get them up into normal levels.”

Since the study will only involve women who meet the requirements, which includes having a demonstrable vitamin D deficiency, Byrn said there is little risk of incurring the negative side affects of too-high levels of vitamin D.

She said Penckofer’s new study would examine the impact of different amounts of supplementary vitamin D, to validate and further the results from the previous study.

“The new study is going to be randomized, so half of the people will get 50,000 IU [of vitamin D] and half of the people will get a normal vitamin D dose [of 4,200 IU],” Byrn said. “Hopefully, since there will be two groups, we’ll be able to see if it’s really the high-dose vitamin D that’s contributing to these results.”

Although these studies have included only a small subset of the population, she said she believes the results may end up being applicable to people across the board.

“With the next study, we’ll have more validated findings,” Byrns said. “Then our conclusions of the effects of vitamin D will be stronger, and then we will hopefully be able to get general practice physicians to start checking people’s vitamin D levels when they come in for their regular check up.”

She said she sees the results of this study as providing a cost-effective treatment for a healthier population.

Contact Tabitha Ricketts at trick01@saintmarys.edu