The vitamin known to strengthen bones and teeth is now being hailed as the new medical breakthrough treatment that asthma sufferers have been waiting for. For decades, vitamin D has been available to purchase over the counter, but the use has been restricted to just those who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency or those who currently have a vitamin D deficiency. Experts are now debating whether to class the vitamin is a drug and dispense it behind the counter to those who suffer from chronic illness and diseases such as asthma.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in dairy products and meat. However, it’s also synthesized through the skin from direct sunlight. Just 30 minutes to an hour of being in the sun provides you with the amount of vitamin D you need for the day. Conversely, certain medical conditions may make it difficult to synthesize vitamin D or to metabolize it within the body. For this reason, supplements are often recommended.
Menopausal women and people with osteoporosis must take calcium supplements in order to supply their bodies with the amount of calcium they lack, but researchers have found that taking vitamin D along with this calcium supplement increases the absorption and minimizes the risk of developing conditions such as hypercalcemia (excessive calcium buildup in the blood) or suffering a heart attack.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to become inflamed and constricted. Up until now, asthma has been treated with a mixture of both avoiding triggers and taking preventative steroidal medications. However, the medications used to treat asthma have some pretty nasty side effects, such as weight gain, changes in voice tone and heart palpitations.
Scientists at Kings College London claim that vitamin D supplements can be prescribed alongside steroidal medications to reduce the need for the medication and prevent the side effects associated with steroid use. In the study funded by the Asthma UK charity, scientists found that vitamin D lowered levels of a very specific chemical, called IL-17A, in the body that’s responsible for aggravating the lungs and triggering asthma symptoms. This trigger actually reduces the effectiveness of the steroids, which can cause the symptoms to worsen and bring about a full asthma attack.
They tested 18 steroidal-resistant patients, 10 steroidal-responsive patients and a control group of 10 healthy individuals. Patients without asthma had a much lower IL-17A level than those with asthma, and those with steroid-resistant asthma had the highest level. The test showed that steroids were unable to lower this level in people with asthma, but vitamin D significantly reduced the level for all participants. The Mayo Clinic states that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in people with asthma, and that treating the deficiency may be the reason for symptomatic relief.
Although they haven’t actually published the amount of vitamin D that they used to reduce this chemical in the body, they made the results public at the American Thoracic Society 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia. Experts are looking forward to more clinical trials to pinpoint the exact rate of effectiveness of using vitamin D alongside steroidal treatments and whether foods that are high in vitamin D provide the same results.
For now, some doctors are already encouraging their patients to increase their consumption of foods that contain vitamin D, including low-fat dairy products, fortified juice and fortified grains. Natural sunlight absorbed through the skin can also provide the amount of vitamin D necessary to meet the daily requirements, but not enough to correct a deficiency, which can worsen asthma symptoms. Some doctors have also prescribed vitamin D supplements or recommended over-the-counter supplements to their asthma patients.
More clinical research is needed to provide a better understanding of why vitamin D lowers the IL-17A chemical, and whether taking a certain amount of Vitamin D can rule out the need to use steroidal medications completely. Doctors aren’t shunning the use of inhalers just yet, but they are looking forward to the day when they can prescribe a natural supplement in their place.