COPD, Asthma, and You: The Silent Deficiency That Could Harm You

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You might have a silent deficiency that could harm you especially if you have COPD or asthma. Moreover, it is sometimes overlooked by doctors and other health care providers.

According to recent research, insufficient levels of vitamin D can lead to severe exacerbations more frequently for people who have COPD or asthma. Luckily, medical professionals understand the causes of vitamin D deficiency and how to manage it as we discuss below.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

Getting enough vitamin D from sunlight can be hard for many of us. Winter months mean less sunlight. Sometimes, the climate where we live produces fewer sunny days. And often, our daily routine keeps us indoors most of the time.

Further, having COPD can make it difficult to engage in outdoor activity with accompanying exposure to the sun. Persons with asthma also might cut back on outdoor exercising or recreation.

Like many others, those with COPD often follow diets that are high in protein and fat in order to regulate their weight appropriately. (Please see COPD, Asthma, and You: How Diet Can Make a Difference for additional information about nutrition.) But such foods are often lacking in vitamin D, leading to a silent deficiency that can only be detected by laboratory testing.

Similarly, if you are taking medications that contain steroids to help your breathing, the steroids can lead to vitamin D deficiency over time.

Finally, smoking impedes vitamin D absorption and leads to other problems for those with COPD or asthma. Quitting smoking, along with other measures, can help reverse the deficiency and reduce the threat of serious exacerbations.

How to Correct Vitamin D Deficiency

More exposure to the sun can provide enough vitamin D for us all; 20 minutes per day is usually sufficient. Nevertheless, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can harm the skin and lead to various forms of melanoma (skin cancer). Because of past overexposure, many people need to avoid nearly all direct exposure to the sun. Therefore, please consult with your doctor about the amount of direct sunlight that is right for you.

In addition, try eating more foods that are high in vitamin D: fish (salmon and tuna); mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light; fortified milk, milk substitutes, yogurt, or orange juice; eggs. Since eating can be physically tiring for those with COPD, eating smaller meals more frequently, including those high in vitamin D, might be better.

For many, taking vitamin D3 supplements daily will be necessary. Be sure to consult your doctor about the correct dosage for you because taking too much vitamin D can cause increased calcium absorption that can damage kidney or heart function.

Benefits of Vitamin D

A sufficient level vitamin D appears to reduce severe exacerbations (that require hospital admission or emergency department attention) from 6% to 3%. That is, you may be able to reduce life-threatening attacks by as much as half.  

Further, vitamin D seems to reduce the likelihood of respiratory infections from rhinoviruses (common cold) and other viruses. (Whether this includes the corona-virus that causes Covid-19 is unknown.)

Still, increasing levels of vitamin D does not seem to affect the daily experience for people with COPD or asthma.

Finally, vitamin D leads to better bone health and reduced inflammation.

Conclusion

Bringing vitamin D to a normal level can reduce severe exacerbations for those with COPD or asthma by about 50%.

Increased sun exposure (usually no more than 20 minutes per day), eating foods high in vitamin D, and taking vitamin D3 supplements (according to physician-recommended dosage) will usually correct any deficiency. Quitting smoking is also vital.

We think that after you consult with your physician, you’ll find that simple changes in your lifestyle will have you feeling more energetic, with fewer exacerbations. Never miss a moment.