Can vitamin D supplements really help prevent asthma attacks?
08/15/2020 / By Skye Anderson / Comments
Can vitamin D supplements really help prevent asthma attacks?

Vitamin D supplements are helpful for people who live in countries or regions where the sun barely shines. Over the past few decades, health experts and scientists have tried to increase awareness about the severe consequences of vitamin D deficiency. Among the many health issues associated with this diet-induced condition, osteoporosis, rickets, cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression are the most well-known. But a study presented by London researchers at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2016 found that vitamin D supplements can help people with asthma decrease their risk of severe asthma attacks.

Fast facts about asthma attacks

The condition known as asthma is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Irritants called allergens, which are present in the environment, serve as triggers for asthma symptoms. During an asthma attack, the airways become swollen and inflamed. The muscles around them contract, and they are forced to produce extra mucus. All these events cause the breathing tubes to narrow, and these lead to severe chest shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, and coughing or wheezing, which are the most common complaints by asthma sufferers.

Asthma affects people differently. While it can be just a minor nuisance for some, for others, it can potentially be serious. Because there’s still no cure for asthma, sufferers rely only on preventive medications to avoid asthma attacks. Severe asthma attacks can interrupt daily activities or require hospitalization. At their worst, they can lead to respiratory arrest and death.

Can vitamin D really prevent asthma?

Asthma sufferers have a variety of options when it comes to asthma medications. There are those that offer long-term control, some for quick relief, medications for allergies and control medications that try to suppress the biological responses that trigger inflammation. While these may all sound impressive and helpful, the reality is, these medications unfortunately cause unwanted side effects.

For instance, inhaled corticosteroids, which are used for long-term control, have been reported to delay growth in children. In adults, they commonly cause mouth and throat irritation and oral yeast infections. Meanwhile, prolonged use of oral corticosteroids for severe asthma attacks are known to cause cataracts, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, high blood pressure and a reduced resistance to infections.

According to Adrian Martineau, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, vitamin D supplementation offers a potentially safer and far better option for asthmatics than currently available medications. Martineau and his team decided to explore this potential of vitamin D after previous studies reported an association between low vitamin D levels and a higher risk of asthma attacks in asthmatics.

The researchers looked at data from nine published reports that evaluated the effects of vitamin D supplementation on asthma symptoms and attacks. These studies combined involved a total of 435 asthmatic children and 658 asthmatic adults. Most of these participants had mild to moderate asthma, with only a small number suffering from severe asthma.

Here’s what Martineau and his team discovered about the effects of vitamin D supplements:

  • Asthmatics experienced a 3 percent reduction in their risk of hospitalization due to asthma after taking vitamin D supplements. They reported no severe side effects.
  • Vitamin D supplementation decreased the asthmatic participants’ dependence and need for steroidal treatments. These medications are often used to control inflammation.
  • The effects of vitamin D supplements were limited to the prevention of asthma attacks. Supplementation did not improve everyday asthma symptoms or lung function in asthmatics.

But while Martineau calls their findings exciting, he highlights the need for further research because of the limitations involved in the studies they reviewed. For instance, because only a small number of participants had severe asthma, it’s not clear whether vitamin D supplements are truly effective for them.

“Second, it is not yet clear whether vitamin D supplements can reduce [the] risk of severe asthma attacks in all patients, or whether this effect is just seen in those who have low vitamin D levels to start with,” said Martineau.

Why vitamin D?

There are several possible reasons why vitamin D could help prevent asthma attacks. According to experts, vitamin D has the ability to modulate immune responses and also boosts the body’s antimicrobial defenses. These can help asthmatics avoid catching a cold and other infections that affect their upper respiratory tracts. These types of infections often trigger asthma attacks or worsen asthma symptoms.

Another thing vitamin D has going for it is that it can reduce the severity of inflammation in the airways. Inflammation in the bronchial tubes is what causes wheezing and breathing difficulties for many asthmatics. Scientists who’ve explored the actions of vitamin D at the molecular level say that lung tissue produces vitamin D whenever it’s inflamed or infected. This is where the theory that vitamin D is an anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting nutrient comes from.

Additionally, asthma attacks are often triggered by viral infections that target the upper respiratory tract. Several reports suggest that vitamin D can prevent these attacks simply because it can protect against viral infections and also regulate the body’s inflammatory response. All of these findings are part of the reason why medical experts are now leaning toward the use of vitamin D supplements to control asthma, although they still advise asthmatics to continue taking their prescribed medications.

Other sources of vitamin D

Vitamin D and multivitamin supplements are popular these days. According to a recent online survey by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, more than 86 percent of American adults take vitamins and other supplements to support their health. The majority of these people are those who want to avoid nutrient deficiency because they either have dietary restrictions or could not get ample amounts of a nutrient from their diet for some reason or other.

But it’s quite easy to boost your vitamin D levels. While it’s true that only a few foods contain high enough amounts of vitamin D to help us meet our daily requirements, we all know that food isn’t the best sources of this nutrient anyway. The quickest and most efficient way to boost one’s vitamin D levels is to get sun exposure. Ultraviolet B rays from the sun can trigger our skin to produce vitamin D; but be sure you don’t soak up too much of it or it can cause skin damage and even skin cancer.

According to experts, 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure between 7 and 9 a.m. is enough to trigger vitamin D production. If you’re not sure you can get enough vitamin D with just that, you can also eat foods rich in vitamin D. Healthy foods you can eat to raise your vitamin D levels include oily fish, mushrooms, eggs and dairy products, especially milk and yogurt that have been fortified with vitamin D.

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