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Vitamin D Supplements Will Not Reduce COPD Exacerbations Unless Deficiency Exists

Vitamin D, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD

While adequate vitamin D levels have an impact on reducing inflammatory activity and fighting infections, supplementation with high doses does not appear to reduce the number of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations, despite these two conditions being problems with these patients.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is one of the most common lung diseases with smoking being the leading cause. The two main forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, and emphysema, causing destruction of the lungs over time. Because vitamin D influences lung growth, and many COPD patients are deficient, studies have been conducted to evaluate the benefit of supplementation in this patient population.

Dr. Wim Janssens of the University Hospital Gasthuisberg (Lueven, Belgium) studied 182 patients with moderate to severe COPD. The participants received 100,000 IU of Vitamin D orally or an inactive placebo monthly for a year. The researchers counted the number of COPD exacerbations (a worsening of symptoms) each patient experienced.

Overall, the team found that there was no difference between the number of COPD exacerbations between those taking the active vitamin supplement and the placebo. The patients in the experimental group also did not report greater improvements in quality of life or the number of times they were hospitalized for COPD.

However, for the small subset of patients who were severely deficient in the vitamin, supplementation did benefit, decreasing the rate of COPD exacerbation.

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The conclusion? Because COPD patients do tend to be deficient in vitamin D, it makes sense to screen these patients during physician visits and supplementing those who need it. . “Be aware that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in COPD and that it needs supplementation for bone health reasons,” says Dr. Janssens. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is important for bone health.

Having a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test is the most accurate method for measuring how much vitamin D is in the body. The normal range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter, per the National Institutes of Health.

The Institutes of Medicine recommends that most Americans take in 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Those older than 70 need slightly more – 800 IU. Vitamin D can be found in fortified dairy and juice products and certain fish including Atlantic herring, catfish, salmon, and trout. Alternatives to dairy products, such as soymilk, are also usually fortified with vitamin D.

Source Reference:
Lehouck A, Mathieu C et al. “High Doses of Vitamin D to Reduce Exacerbations in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Randomized Trial” Ann Intern Med January 17, 2012 156:105-114

Additional References:
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published online January 28, 2011
National Institutes of Health

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