Courtesy of BioMed Central — Medical Genomics

The connection between asthma and vitamin D

Breathing is an act that most of us take for granted, but individuals suffering from asthma sometimes need to put in tremendous effort to take in just one single breath of life saving oxygen. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, approximately 26 million individuals in America suffer from asthma. This allergic disease is the most common chronic disease in children. Asthma alone is responsible for approximately 3,600 annual fatalities in America.

Living with asthma is not easy, and this lifelong lung disease may limit several day-to-day activities. The airways in the lungs that are responsible for carrying air from the lungs to the nose and mouth get clogged due to the excessive mucus being secreted. They also swell up due to inflammation and get constricted restricting intake of air and oxygen causing a sense of suffocation and leaving one literally gasping for air.

The common symptoms of asthma are chest tightness, wheezing, long-lasting cough and difficulty in breathing. While most persons with asthma experience instant relief in these symptoms by using an inhaler, there seems to be no real long term respite apart from avoiding the potential triggers of asthma. But could vitamin D supplements hold the key to permanent asthma resolution?

Asthma and vitamin D

The field of allergic diseases has seen some path-breaking research over the last few decades. Although there are several anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory medications used in the treatment of asthma, new research shows that vitamin D can actually help in its management. Several studies have indicated a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and asthma. Individuals who spend more time in the sun experience fewer asthma attacks. Furthermore, higher latitude, lower sunlight during winter, and lower temperatures are linked to higher rates of asthma. These very factors are also linked to vitamin D deficiencies in residing populations. Vitamin D deficiency might be a reason for this increase in asthma cases research suggests.

The exact mechanism by which vitamin D can prevent and help in the management of asthma is yet under study. However, current research hints that adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body help boost the immune system. Severe inflammation is seen in the respiratory tract in patients suffering from asthma and Vitamin D has shown to reduce this inflammation, thus providing relief from disturbing symptoms.

A Canadian study trying to identify the link between vitamin D levels and asthma discovered that among participants aged 13 to 69 years those having vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL had a 50% higher chance of developing asthma when compared to individuals with vitamin D levels between 20 and 30 ng/mL.

The positive effects of vitamin D supplementation on asthma are also more pronounced in children as compared to adults with asthma. The Cochrane Airways Group conducted worldwide studies involving multiple countries like Canada, India, Japan, Poland, UK, and USA. Participants included 658 adults and 435 children, and results showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the average number and asthma attacks and emergency hospital admissions.

Sources of vitamin D

Active vitamin D is produced from the skin when it is exposed to the sun. There are very few foods that contain this ‘sunshine vitamin’ such as oily fish, red meat, egg yolk, and sun-exposed mushrooms. Some packaged foods are also vitamin D fortified such as breakfast cereals and milk mixes.

Thus, along with your ongoing asthma medications, a stroll under the early morning sun and adding fortified foods to your diet might go a long way in preventing and managing asthma. Talk to your doctor if you can also add a vitamin D supplement to better control your asthma.

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