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Vitamin D Reduces Lung Disease By More Than 40 Percent

People with the worst vitamin D deficiency are highly susceptible to illness and suffer respiratory infections than those with sufficient levels. Vitamin D supplementation could reduce flare-ups of lung disease by more than 40% in patients who are deficient, say researchers.

We know that in the absence of vitamin D from sunlight, disease increases more than 1000 percent. Data from systematic reviews of several population-based studies shows that more than a third of populations worldwide may suffer from low levels of vitamin D.

The randomised trial data, published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, is the first clinical trial to investigate the impact of vitamin D supplementation on severity and duration of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms "finding that supplementation with the vitamin had a dramatic impact on COPD patients who were vitamin D deficient at the start of the trial."

Led by Professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London, the team performed a randomised clinical trial in more than 200 patients with COPD, with results showing more than a 40% reduction in flare-ups in those with low vitamin D levels at baseline.

However, the striking reduction in flare-ups was not seen among patients who had a higher vitamin D status at the start of the trial, said the team.

"Flare-ups of chronic bronchitis and emphysema (COPD) can be debilitating for patients, sometimes leading to hospitalisation and even death, explained Martineau. Our research has shown how an inexpensive vitamin supplement can significantly reduce the risk of flare-ups for patients who are vitamin D deficient, which could have a major public health benefit.

Our findings suggest that patients with COPD should have their vitamin D status tested and should begin taking supplements if their levels are found to be low, he said.

Study details

The NIHR-funded randomised trial included 240 patients with COPD in and around London.

Half of the patients (122) received vitamin D3 supplements (6 x 2-monthly oral doses of 3mg) and the other half (118) received an equivalent placebo. The risk, severity and duration of flare-ups was then compared between the two groups.

The team found that vitamin D supplementation modestly reduced the severity and duration of flare-up symptoms in all patients in the vitamin D group - regardless of their baseline vitamin D levels, compared to the placebo group.

However, the results were far more significant for those who were suffering from a low vitamin D status at the start, said the team.

Indeed, they noted that vitamin D3 supplementation protected against moderate or severe exacerbation, but not upper respiratory infections, in patients with baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of less than 50 nmol/L.

Our findings suggest that correction of vitamin D deficiency in patients with COPD reduces the risk of moderate or severe exacerbation, said Martineau and colelagues.

Obtaining Vitamin D Naturally

Making vitamin D through sun exposure is the natural way to maintain D levels as shown through hundreds of thousands of years of human history.

To make vitamin D, you need UV-B rays to come into direct contact with your skin. UV-B rays cannot penetrate glass, so you don't make any vitamin D while you're sitting in a car or by a window at work or at home.

But creating enough vitamin D in your body isn't as simple as getting a certain number of minutes of sunlight exposure every day because the number and intensity of UV-B rays that reach your skin and lead to vitamin D production is affected by a number of different factors, the main ones being:

  1. Your Skin Color

    Lighter skin color allows deeper penetration by UV-B rays, which decreases the amount of sunlight exposure needed for adequate vitamin D production. If you have darker skin, it's harder for UV-B rays to penetrate your skin and create vitamin D, which means that you need greater exposure to sunlight than someone with lighter skin.

  2. Season

    If you live above 35 degrees latitude north or below 35 degrees latitude south, you receive little to no UV-B rays from some point in autumn to some point in spring. During this time, your body has to rely on the vitamin D that it has created during warmer months, or on intake of vitamin D through food and supplements.

  3. Altitude and Latitude

    The further north or south you live from the equator, the less exposure you have to UV-B rays.

    The higher you live above sea level, the greater exposure you have to UV-B rays.

  4. Pollution and Clouds

    Both decrease the number of UV-B rays that reach you.

  5. Your Age

    With each passing year, natural degenerative changes that occur in your skin make it harder for UV-B rays to convert cholesterol in your skin into vitamin D. It's a known fact that elderly people need to rely more on food sources than sunlight for their vitamin D. At 70 years of age, the average person has approximately 30% of the capacity to generate vitamin D from sunlight that a 20-year old has.


1. Improves Muscle Function
If you have chronic pain you may want to reassess your vitamin D levels.

New research shows, for the first time, a link between vitamin D and muscle function -- including recovery from exercise and daily activities. It also explains why lower levels can lead to physical fatigue. Similar research done with adolescent girls found that vitamin D is positively related to muscle power, force, velocity and jump height.

And while you may not be too worried about your jump height, this research is relevant if you find it hard to even get to the gym -- let alone hit your personal bests while you’re there.

2. It Blunts Your Appetite
Beyond the clear impact on our mood, gloomy pre-spring weather can indeed make us fat. We produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in bright sunlight. Beyond the established immune-enhancing benefits, rising vitamin D levels are also known to activate the production of leptin, which helps us slim down by signalling our brain and our stomach.

A study from Aberdeen University found that adequate levels of sunlight can significantly reduce obesity. After monitoring more than 3,100 post-menopausal women living in northeast Scotland over a two-year period they discovered that women who had the highest BMI also had the lowest amounts of vitamin Din their blood.

3. It Can Protect Lung Function
The sunshine vitamin will not only help you feel better, you’ll breathe easier too. According to a new study from researchers in Boston, vitamin D deficiency is associated with worse lung function and more rapid decline in lung function over time in smokers. This research suggests vitamin D may protect against some of the effects of smoking on lung function. The number one protector? Not smoking!

4. Can Help You Shed Weight
Vitamin D has been proven to lower insulin, improve serotonin levels, enhance the immune system, control appetite and even improve fat-loss efforts.

A study completed by a team at Massey University showed women who were given a daily dose of 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 showed improvements in their insulin resistance after six months of supplementation.

If that’s not enough, research from the University of Minnesota found that higher vitamin D levels in the body at the start of a low-calorie diet improved weight-loss success. Scientists determined that as vitamin D increased in the blood, subjects ended up losing almost a half-pound more on their calorie-restricted diet.

5. Lowers Blood Pressure
A 2012 study, presented at the European Society of Hypertensionmeeting in London, shows that vitamin D supplementation can help lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension. Similarly, additional research found that vitamin D deficiency in premenopausal women may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure even 15 years later -- certainly a great reason to your levels optimized today for healthy aging.

6. Shuts Down Cancer Cells
Researchers at McGill University have discovered a molecular basis for the cancer preventive effects of vitamin D, whereby its active form essentially shuts down cancer cells.

7. Direct Link Between Low Levels of Vitamin D and Mortality
Low levels of vitamin D and high levels of parathyroid hormone are associated with increased mortality according to a study in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM). The study also indicates that the potential impact of remediating low vitamin D levels is greater in African Americans than Caucasians because vitamin D insufficiency is more common in African Americans.

8. Reduces Alzheimer's Risk
The highest average intakes of the sunshine vitamin were associated with a 77% decrease in the risk of Alzheimer's, report researchers in the The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.

9. Affects Hundreds of Genes in Disease Preventing Potential
Vitamin D has a significant effect on at least 229 genes some of which have been associated with Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes, according to UK and Canadian researchers.

10. Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis

If you are a woman, you need to pay special attention to your vitamin D status to protect your bones. Using state-of-the-art technology, researchers from the University Medical Center Hamburg in Germany, and the University of California, Berkeley found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with less mineralization on the surface of the bone, as well as structural characteristics of older and more brittle bone.


Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.

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