Giving young children extra Vitamin D supplements may help prevent type 1 diabetes later in life, says a new study.

Type 1 diabetes causes the immune system to attack insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas — a process that begins in early infancy. It affects approximately 2 million people in Europe and North America. For reasons that are not known, type 1 diabetes is becoming more common.

The new study, published March 13,2008 ahead of print in the online Archives of Disease in Childhood, reviewed five other studies of vitamin D supplementation in children. It found that children who were given high amounts of vitamin D were 30% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those who were not.

Low levels of vitamin D and sunlight, from which the body manufactures vitamin D, have been implicated in other autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

For instance, there is a great difference in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in people from different latitudes with differing levels of sunlight. A child in Finland is 400 times more likely to develop the disease than a child in Venezuela.