VANADIUM: Diabetes Therapy
Last updated on July 19th, 2016
Vanadium is normally mined as a silvery metal. It is useful in non-medical situations because it does not corrode easily. About eighty percent of vanadium mined is used as part of a steel additive. Alloys containing vanadium are extremely touch and are used for various kinds of tools, crankshafts, piston rods, axles, and armor plating. Vanadium alloys are also used in nuclear reactors because the substance absorbs neutrons at a very low rate.
Vanadium is found to be an essential nutrient in some species of animals, including humans; however, the research on vanadium in humans is lacking. It is known that humans need very little vanadium for biological purposes. The usual amount of vanadium taken in per day is about 0.01 milligrams daily, which seems to suffice for most biochemical processes found in humans. Too much vanadium has been found to be toxic.
Vanadium Use in Animal Studies
Vanadium tungstate was given in one animal studies to young male Zucker diabetic fatty rats, which are rats that showed moderate hyperglycemia as part of their pathophysiology. When given to these diabetic rats, vanadium tungstate was found to lower the glucose level to normal levels after taking the substance for about ten days. After the substance was drawn, the glucose levels in these rats were found have elevated glucose levels again, although the glucose levels didn’t rise to the level they were before taking the vanadium tungstate.
Rats who were not treated with vanadium tungstate had increasing blood glucose levels throughout the study, reaching levels of up to 450 mg/dL. This high level of glucose was maintained throughout the study. In addition, tolerance to being given glucose into the peritoneum improved in rats given vanadium tungstate but not in those who were untreated.
The treatment by diabetic rats with vanadium tungstate also decreased triglyceride levels in these rats. Triglycerides are often elevated in diabetic humans and, by decreasing triglyceride levels, the risk of pancreatitis and heart disease can be decreased. Several liver enzymes were found to be decreased in the diabetic rats given vanadium tungstate.
The level of glycogen was unaffected by giving Vanadium tungstate to these animals. Altogether, the research on vanadium tungstate in diabetic rats indicated that the substance caused a marked reduction in blood glucose levels. It was determined that the glucose was reduced because liver glucose metabolism was restored and there was a lessening of fat toxicity.
Vanadium Studies in Humans
Vanadium has not been found to be an essential nutrient in humans and there have been no instances of human vanadium deficiency. The normal forms of vanadium in the body has been found to be in the forms of vanadyl and vanadate in human biological systems.
There have been a few small research trials using vanadium supplements in type 2 diabetic patients. Type 1 diabetics were not included in the study even though vanadium has been found to be helpful in animal studies involving animals afflicted with type 1 diabetics.
It was found that, in type 2 diabetics, vanadium increased the insulin sensitivity, which is the ability of the cells to respond to the presence of insulin. People with insulin sensitivity don’t have the ability to use insulin to put glucose into the cells for cellular metabolism.
One review study was done looking at five separate trials using vanadium in humans where were diabetic. Unfortunately, the quality of these studies were low so that no meaningful observations were made from these studies. Each study did a measurement of blood sugar control after the subjects received vanadium but none of the studies were controlled studies, which are considered far superior to uncontrolled studies. The conclusion of the review study was that there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend the routine use of the mineral, vanadium, in humans.
Two studies among the five examined used groups of untreated participants or non-diabetic participants to compare with the diabetic patients and all were given vanadium. It was felt that using untreated or non-diabetic patients did not allow for a meaningful comparison of treating patients with vanadium versus treating them with placebo agents.
No study compared treatment with vanadium versus non-treatment with the mineral, which, in effect, nullified the study. The fact that no study used randomization and no study used adequate parallel control groups meant that the evidence obtained from the studies were not valid. In addition, the studies used too few participants and the duration of the treatment was too short, which further nullified the results of the studies.
Several of the studies used the HgbA1c level to measure glycemic control after vanadium was given. As the Hgb A1c level measures the amount of glucose on red blood cells and red blood cells survive as many as 120 days in the body, if the study was shorter than 120 days, the actual effectiveness of vanadium could not be established so the studies were not well thought out.
In summarizing the five studies evaluated in the review study, the researchers felt that the studies represented early phase work only; however, the data gathered in the study were interesting because they did show an improvement in blood sugar levels in humans. If these studies were reproduced in longer and more rigorous studies, the effect of vanadium on humans may someday show a clinically significant finding.
A good study on vanadium and diabetes should last at least three months, so that changes in the HgbA1c could actually show a difference and would reflect long term control of glucose levels. This type of study has not yet been done. It was also felt that at least 100 participants should be used per arm in any study using vanadium in diabetic humans.
Another study used vanadyl sulfate to treat diabetic rats. Vanadyl sulfate is one form that vanadium comes in. Giving rats this substance did lower the high blood sugar levels in diabetic rats and also lowered the cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which further decrease the risk factors for heart disease in diabetic patients. Vanadyl sulfate, given over a year to rats, did not show any toxicity, so at least this is considered a safe substance to use.
The downside of using vanadyl sulfate for diabetics is that it is poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. This means that, if vanadyl sulfate were used in humans, large amounts would need to be given or it would have to be given by injection.
So, does vanadium help diabetics? According to the current research on the topic, vanadium may lower blood glucose levels but more studies are needed in humans that last longer than three months to see if this can be of use in human subjects with diabetes.
- Vanadium. http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/23/vanadium/. Accessed 5/10/16.
- Munoz MC, Barbera A. Effects of Tungstate, a new potential oral antidiabetic agent, in Zucker Diabetic Fatty Rats. http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/1/131.short. Accessed 5/10/16.
- Pandey A, Pripathi P, et. al. Alternative therapies useful in the management of diabetes: A systematic review. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 504-512.
- Smith, DM, Pickering RM, Lewith GT. A systematic review of vanadium oral supplements for glycaemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. http://qjmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/101/5/351. Accessed 5/10/16.
- Poucheret P, et. al. Vanadium and Diabetes. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. 1998 Nov; 188(1):73-80.