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How to Prevent Asthma Flares with Vitamin D

A careful analysis of nine clinical trials of vitamin D found that supplements cut the rate of scary asthma flares approximately in half.

Asthma can be notoriously difficult to control. Asthma flares may occur on the heels of a respiratory tract infection or after an exposure to an allergenic trigger. Is there any way to prevent such asthma flares?

The Importance of Vitamin D:

Previous studies have suggested that people with low levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to asthma exacerbations. Now research shows that asthma sufferers who take vitamin D supplements are less likely to experience severe asthma flares.

This conclusion comes from a new Cochrane Review presented at the European Respiratory Society Congress this week. The investigators analyzed seven trials including 435 children and two with 658 adults. Most of these patients continued to take their regular asthma medication during the six to 12 months of the studies.

People Taking Vitamin D Pills Had Fewer Asthma Flares:

In these studies, people who took oral vitamin D supplements instead of placebo reduced their rate of emergency department visits from 6% to 3%. Fewer people on vitamin D needed to treat their asthma with oral steroids.

Vitamin D didn’t help day-to-day symptoms for these patients, but it also didn’t cause troublesome side effects. However, it isn’t clear that all the benefits in these trials were due to correcting inadequate or deficient levels of the vitamin. The researchers stress that the supplements are not a substitute for regular asthma control medication.

Reader Reports Benefit from Vitamin D Supplements:

Q. I have had mild to moderate asthma most of my life. Although doctors have recommended a daily corticosteroid, I chose to treat it as needed with an albuterol inhaler/nebulizer (mostly when I had colds).

About five years ago, my doctor noted that my vitamin D levels were low and suggested a supplement of up to 4,000 IUs per day. I began noticing that my lungs were clearer and suspected that Vitamin D had an anti-inflammatory effect. Sure enough, when I ran out and stopped taking it for a few weeks, my asthma symptoms got worse. When I’ve told my doctors about this experience, they always seem surprised, but it works for me.

A. When patients with asthma have low levels of vitamin D, supplementation can improve lung function (Thorax, April, 2019). This is consistent with the findings from the Cochrane review.

In addition, a small study of Japanese school children concluded:

“Low-dose, short-term vitamin D supplementation in addition to standard treatment may improve levels of asthma control in schoolchildren” (Allergy, July, 2016).

Learn More:

You can learn more about this vitamin, what it can do and how much to take in our eGuide to Vitamin D and Optimal Health.  You will find an unorthodox approach to treating asthma in Dr. David Hahn’s book, A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You-and Why.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Martineau AR et al, "Vitamin D for the management of asthma." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Sept. 5, 2016. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011511.pub2 
  • Jolliffe DA et al, "Vitamin D to prevent exacerbations of COPD: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data from randomised controlled trials." Thorax, April, 2019. DOI: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2018-212092
  • Tachimoto H et al, "Improved control of childhood asthma with low-dose, short-term vitamin D supplementation: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." Allergy, July, 2016. DOI: 10.1111/all.12856
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