Vitamin D Supplements Protect Against COPD Exacerbations

Vitamin D supplements can reduce the severity and duration of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease flare-ups by more than 40%.

Vitamin D supplements can reduce the severity and duration of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) flare-ups by more than 40%, according to a study published online in Lancet Respiratory Medicine on December 2, 2014.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London included 240 patients with COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, from 60 general practices and 4 health clinics. Patients were randomized to receive either 6 twice-monthly oral doses of a vitamin D supplement (122 patients) or equivalent placebo (118 patients).

After the trial period, the researchers compared the 2 subject groups’ moderate and severe COPD exacerbations, defined as usual coughing, excess mucus, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest that got worse and stayed worse, sometimes resulting in hospitalization.

Compared with placebo, vitamin D supplements did not affect the time to a COPD patient’s first moderate or severe exacerbation or first upper respiratory infection. While patients with a vitamin D deficiency benefitted from taking the supplement, those with baseline serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations of at least 50 nmol/L were less impacted by the intervention.

However, in both groups, patients who received the vitamin D supplement demonstrated reduced severity and duration of COPD flare-up symptoms. This finding remained true regardless of baseline vitamin D status among the supplement group, compared with the placebo group.

“Flare-ups of chronic bronchitis and emphysema can be debilitating for patients, sometimes leading to hospitalization and even death,” commented lead study author Adrian Martineau, PhD. “Our research has shown how an inexpensive vitamin supplement can significantly reduce the risk of flare-ups for patients who are vitamin D deficient, which could have a major public health benefit.”

Based on the study results, Dr. Martineau recommended that patients with COPD should get their vitamin D status tested, and those with low levels should begin taking supplements.