London: Vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of potentially fatal lung attacks in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, a study has found. The findings, led by Queen Mary University of London in the UK, add to a growing list of health benefits for the 'sunshine vitamin'.
While vitamin D is best known for its effects on bone health, previous studies have revealed its role in protecting against colds, flu and asthma attacks, and even helping with weight gain and brain development in malnourished children. The research, published in the journal Thorax, found that the use of vitamin D supplements led to a 45 per cent reduction in lung attacks among COPD patients who were deficient in vitamin D.
No benefit was seen for patients with higher vitamin D levels. COPD describes a number of lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, where a person's airways become inflamed, making it harder to breathe.
Almost all COPD deaths are due to lung attacks (termed 'exacerbations') in which symptoms worsen acutely. These are often triggered by viral upper respiratory infections -- the type that cause the common cold. The disease affects more than 170 million people worldwide, and caused an estimated 3.2 million deaths in 2015.
"New treatments are urgently needed to prevent COPD attacks. Our study shows that giving supplements to vitamin D-deficient COPD patients nearly halves their rate of potentially fatal attacks," said Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London. "Vitamin D supplementation is safe, and it costs just a few pence to supplement a person for a year -- so this is a potentially highly cost-effective treatment that could be targeted at those who have low vitamin D levels following routine testing," said Martineau.
The study, is based on a new analysis of data from 469 patients across three clinical trials in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. Clinical trials investigating 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 oral vitamin D supplements reduced the rate of moderate/severe COPD exacerbations in patients with low vitamin D levels. 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. The researchers therefore highlight that this would need to be a targeted therapy, with doctors first testing vitamin D levels in COPD patients who experience frequent attacks, and then giving vitamin D supplements to those who are deficient.