Mandatory fortification boost: Vitamin D supplements linked to reduced risk of lung attacks in COPD patients


11 Jan 2019 --- Vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of lung attacks in patients suffering from Chronic Pulmonary Disease (COPD) according to a new study by Queen Mary University of London. The researchers found that the use of vitamin D supplements led to a 45 percent reduction in lung attacks among COPD patients who were deficient in vitamin D. No benefit was seen for patients with higher vitamin D levels.

“Our findings strengthen the case for expanding vitamin D fortification in foods such as milk and bread, given the high prevalence of COPD in the population. Some foods are already fortified – Sweden, Finland and the US all have formal vitamin D fortification programs in place already,” lead researcher, Professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London tells NutritionInsight

Published in the journal Thorax, the study is based on a new analysis of data from 469 patients across three clinical trials in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The study is further adding to the growing list of health benefits that vitamin D may offer. Touted as beneficial for bone health, the “sunshine” vitamin may also protect against colds, flu and asthma attacks. It can help with weight gain and brain development in malnourished children.

Even though the results were limited to people who lacked the vitamin, fortified foods with vitamin D could prove beneficial. This is because it is not currently common practice to check the vitamin D status of COPD patients and correct deficiency where that is found, Martineau notes.

COPD describes a number of lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, where a person’s airways become inflamed, making it harder to breathe. It affects more than 170 million people worldwide and caused an estimated 3.2 million deaths in 2015. 1.2 million people suffer from COPD in the UK, which is the cause of 5 percent of the UK’s total deaths (around 30,000 per year). 

Click to Enlarge“New treatments are urgently needed to prevent COPD attacks. Our study shows that giving supplements to vitamin D-deficient COPD patients almost halves their rate of potentially fatal attacks,” says Martineau. 

“Vitamin D supplementation is safe and costs just a few pence to supplement a person for one year – so this is a potentially highly cost-effective treatment that could target those who have low vitamin D levels following routine testing,” he adds. 

Clinical trials investigating the effects of vitamin D supplementation on COPD have shown conflicting results. By pooling all the individual patient data from different clinical trials, the team set out to determine whether vitamin D might have a protective effect on certain groups of COPD patients.

The analysis found that vitamin D supplements, when consumed orally, reduced the rate of moderate/severe COPD exacerbations in patients with low vitamin D levels (less than 25 nmol per liter of blood or 10 nanograms per milliliter).

Doses of vitamin D ranged from 30 micrograms daily to 2500 micrograms on a monthly basis. Supplementation did not influence the proportion of participants experiencing serious adverse events, indicating that it was safe.

Giving supplements to patients who did not have such low levels of vitamin D did not reduce their risk of COPD attacks, according to the study. The researchers, therefore, note that this would need to be a targeted therapy, with doctors first testing vitamin D levels in COPD patients who experience attacks often and then giving vitamin D supplements to those who are deficient.

The data comes from a relatively small number of trials, so the authors stress that the findings should be interpreted with caution.

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