Vitamin D for Asthma

Vitamin D for Asthma
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Vitamin D supplements are put to the test in childhood asthma.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways affecting approximately 10% of children.” About half the risk is genetically determined, but the rest we may have some control over. One of the reasons asthma rates may be rising is our rising rates of vitamin D deficiency. Kids just aren’t going out to play anymore, leading to a doubling of vitamin D insufficiency levels in recent years, such that less than a quarter of U.S. teens hit the mark. 

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. We make no vitamin D from the light coming from our TV or computer screens. So, do kids with lower vitamin D levels in their blood have worse asthma? Apparently so. One of more than a dozen observational studies suggesting that vitamin D is protective against “asthma exacerbations.”

So, should we start giving kids with asthma vitamin D supplements if they’re not going to go outside? Well, correlation doesn’t mean causation. For example, maybe severe asthma leads to less vitamin D, instead of the other way around. To prove cause and effect, you need to put it to the test. Take kids with asthma, and randomize them into one of two groups—vitamin D, or an identical-looking sugar pill—and see what happens. The problem is there had never been clinical trials like that—until now.

Giving asthmatic kids between 500 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day cuts asthma exacerbations by more than half, perhaps by decreasing the incidence of respiratory infections by boosting immunity, while at the same time diminishing inflammation.

If it helps with inflammation, what about inflammatory bowel disease? We’ll cover that next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: suman76 via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways affecting approximately 10% of children.” About half the risk is genetically determined, but the rest we may have some control over. One of the reasons asthma rates may be rising is our rising rates of vitamin D deficiency. Kids just aren’t going out to play anymore, leading to a doubling of vitamin D insufficiency levels in recent years, such that less than a quarter of U.S. teens hit the mark. 

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. We make no vitamin D from the light coming from our TV or computer screens. So, do kids with lower vitamin D levels in their blood have worse asthma? Apparently so. One of more than a dozen observational studies suggesting that vitamin D is protective against “asthma exacerbations.”

So, should we start giving kids with asthma vitamin D supplements if they’re not going to go outside? Well, correlation doesn’t mean causation. For example, maybe severe asthma leads to less vitamin D, instead of the other way around. To prove cause and effect, you need to put it to the test. Take kids with asthma, and randomize them into one of two groups—vitamin D, or an identical-looking sugar pill—and see what happens. The problem is there had never been clinical trials like that—until now.

Giving asthmatic kids between 500 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day cuts asthma exacerbations by more than half, perhaps by decreasing the incidence of respiratory infections by boosting immunity, while at the same time diminishing inflammation.

If it helps with inflammation, what about inflammatory bowel disease? We’ll cover that next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: suman76 via pixabay. Image has been modified.

84 responses to “Vitamin D for Asthma

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  1. I noticed my skin tone goes to an exaggerated tan rampage within a few minutes of sunbathing when I am on vitamin D supplementation.

    I’m also concerned with the positive correlation between vitamin D and prostate enlargement (AKA. Risk of cancer and other complications).

    1. Mario, where are you finding a correlation between vitamin D and prostate enlargement? Vitamin D is seen as having a positive effect on preventing or suppressing prostate cancer in all the studies I’ve seen. For example:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14580762
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11384870
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472821/

      Admittedly, these articles are quite dated, but I’ve seen nothing more recent that undercuts their suggestion that boosting vitamin D levels can be useful in preventing & treating prostate cancer.

  2. I thought Dr. Greger wasn’t going to do the pop-ups anymore. No matter how many times I see him do it, I get distracted from what he is saying. Please say it will stop. PS, I love Dr Greger and his message and Nutritionfacts.org, but that gimmick turns me off.

      1. I, and probably many others, will heave a sigh of relief when the pop-ups finally go. Sorry but I think they undermine the credibility of the message.

        1. I agree with Tom. This site is all about science-based nutrition and science, intended for adults, is a serious thing. There’re enough – in fact, too many – clowns on the Internet. Dr. Greger doesn’t need to join them.

      2. Doc! You’re a good egg but a bit of a ham to boot. Reminds me of me playing my African drum to the featured track as a university radio Dj at 4am. They gave me the boot for that. Don’t kick yourself. Just ease off the selfie nation schtick and thank you for your live saving service :)

      3. I missed that memo, so THANK YOU. I also find the popups off-putting and distracting. While your longtime followers are familiar with your now-classic tag lines, new viewers won’t “get the in-joke”. More importantly, we the public blithely accept myriad fallacies presented to us by junk science, entrenched cultural norms and omnipresent propaganda. We have real difficulty considering any dissenting message that tempers itself with an inappropriate lack of seriousness.

        On the other hand, EVERYTHING else about this site, your book and your work as a whole is especially laudable! I sincerely thank you for taking up the lofty task of being our junk-busting public champion of nutritional science research.

        For my turn to inject some levity, please enjoy this hilarious 95sec, non-educational, completely sarcastic food humor video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4YB4jU0sl4

      4. you won’t please everyone. and the ‘goosed’ are the first to squawk. Have you considered doing a corner cameo right through the most important parts. When I go to lectures/presentations I (and others) use the presenters body language to get the full impact. I hope you will consider using all the tools available to get your message across.

      1. No Brigitte, you just don’t get it. No one must ever be offended in this brave new werld.
        So no pop ups allowed. it drives the gentle people to distraction. Me? I’m an extinct sea serpent. Nothing bothers me… save Po Jama People.

        -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPi9HYODBjc

    1. You must be what we call in Switzerland a Nörgeler, somebody who doesnt understand fun and always complains about everything!! Im very happy that at last I saw a video WITH the pop ups!

    2. I just watched these videos for the first time, and I have to say, I love the popups :) Humor in educational materials help to focus attention on the speaker and maintain interest. A little levity goes a long way to connecting the viewer with the speaker. I sincerely hope we continue to see your personality injected in your recordings.

      1. I also love the funny, but I also get why some don’t when these videos are often shared with newbies who may be dismissive because of it. Life is so unnecessarily serious and grim sometimes, I seek out humor. Laughter is so much healthier and feels so much better than crying or suppressing tears or emotion! It’s my escape valve.

    3. I love the pop-ups! I don’t understand how people think it is distracting. For me, it really helps the information become a permanent memory for me.

  3. I understand that the recommended supplement level for adults is 2000 a day; what would you recommend for children, please? I have two asthmatic sons. Many thanks for your work, Dr Greger x

      1. Thanks, WFPBRunner. Looking at the sources cited in this article, the range administered is between 500-2000IU a day – that’s a huge range! I don’t want to overdose my boys – we live in England so supplement (currently 400IU/day) quite a bit of the year…and spend lots of time outside whenever possible too.

          1. That is a great suggestion because once you know the level of vitamin D in their blood then you can decide how much to give them based on the recommendation on the above source that WFPBRunner kindly mentioned.

        1. 1,000 iu equates to around 5 minutes in the sun for an adult, so you can scale it down according to body weight of your children from there.

        2. Susannah: One more idea for you: The book Becoming Vegan Express Edition is a book that Dr. Greger recommends in his own book (How Not To Die) as a good reference for specific nutrients. I don’t know how hard it would be to get this book in England, but it is a great all around reference book and it includes a chapter on children. It also had a chart of nutrients needed by age range. So, it would answer your question about recommendations for vitamin D and any other questions you had about dosing the young ones. :-) Just an idea for you.

          1. Hi Thea, many thanks for this – I can’t find the reference to the book in HNTD – and there are two books called ‘Becoming Vegan Express’ – could you please tell me the author? Much appreciated x

            1. Susannah: Here’s a link to the Amazon page for the book: https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Vegan-Express-Plant-based-Nutrition/dp/1570672954/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483390211&sr=1-1&keywords=becoming+vegan+express+edition It is by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina
              .
              FYI: I just looked it up. Dr. Greger talks about the book in the appendix. It’s on page 411 of the edition that I have. When I look at the reference (number 54), he actually refers to the Comprehensive Edition. But I can tell you that the Express edition also has chapters and charts on raising kids.
              .
              Does that help?

    1. From studies I’ve read it’s more like 1000IU per 60 lbs(27 kg).
      I agree you should have your childrens 25-OH levels checked first.

    1. I am a 60-year-old woman with asthma and early stage COPD. I began taking 1,000 mg Vit. D beginning in July 2016. Along with that simultaneously, I also started on pre- and probiotics. I have not used a nebulizer since August. And while I have had a few incidents of roughness and wheezing this winter 2016, I have not felt the need for the neb. I just cough or use a lozenge. I had been attributing this improvement to the pre- and probiotics. But I now I see it really has been the Vit. D all along. TY, Dr. Greger for this information!

      1. Thats great news Ita that you are doing so well ! . I have seen similar progress with changing to wfpb diet in a issue I had with exercise induced asthma that would bother me if I wasnt warmed up. I have taken vit D for years now but 1000 iu only too, so maybe i will ask for a test.

        If I recall though I thought a previous video on vit D talked about how grossly inaccurate the testing is, even with the same blood sample sent to different labs?

  4. I have had severe asthma for sixty years. I say had because the combination of eliminating gluten, then going on a WFPBD has cured me completely. I am still curious, whether or not the scar tissue from COPD is still there. I just wish I had known how to reduce inflammation in my body years ago. Perhaps the Vit D I take helps, but I have always been an outdoors person even as a child. Thank you NF team for all your help.

      1. Thank you for your kind words Thea. I know those of us who have had this disease for many years tend to get a bit cavalier about our meds. I know I used to go to my doctor for prescriptions and we’d spend most of our time chatting about gardening, dogs, kids etc., because there was nothing more to be done. It took a severe health issue ( a horse fell on me) to make me want to have a better handle on nutrition to heal my broken bones. The asthma issue was a surprising but as you say, AMAZING side effect.

  5. Got a question:
    Dr. Greger recommends 2000 IU of Vitamin D per day in form of a supplement, if you cannot get enough from the sun… could one also take a weekly supplement with a higher dose?

    1. Yes, vitamin D is fat soluble and accumulates in the liver. Most studies say 5000IU is the upper safe limit per day, you could take two of those a week.

    2. This is a good time to share some an interesting and elegant experiment I read about years ago. Wanting to understand how much VitD the body makes and might use, researchers took blood samples from a large group of volunteers. Their VitD levels in their blood were tested and noted. Then the volunteers were put out in midday sun for 15 minutes, then blood drawn and tested again. In that 15 minutes the average amount of VitD the body made on its own was 40,000IU. Additional studies would have been interesting . ..such as do the same blood draws again 24 hrs later to see what the differences might be. However, that wasn’t done.
      Nonetheless, this shows that the body will make a chunk of VitD in one session when given the opportunity.
      A friend’s doctor put her on 50,000IU once per week which she has been on for a number of years now. And, yes, he tests her blood.
      Additional research I have seen showed that the body will store VitD up to 100,000IU and that that may be the upper limit.
      So I don’t think I’d worry a whole lot about higher doses.
      Michael Horlick, M.D. has spent his life researching VitD, has Youtube videos and books.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiGBVDcbFVk

        1. Hey Vege-tater,

          You are right to question the efficacy of supplementation. There are many studies which show that people who eat diets consisting of foods that are high in certain nutrients have much better outcomes than those who merely supplement with those same nutrients (rather than getting them from the food.) And there are studies to show that simply supplementing with even a multivitamin does not reduce risk or chronic disease or early death. Yet, we know that people who eat diets that are replete in the required nutrients do have lower risks of disease and death.

          With Vitamin D, which as you point out, is actually a hormone and not a vitamin, there are a lot of unknowns. Even though there are plenty of studies linking Vitamin D to a whole host of health conditions, it’s unclear exactly what the role D is in potentially causing a health condition. We don’t have enough experimental research that has tested all the various diseases that D may play a role in and what those mechanisms might be.

          When you see a study that says that D is ‘linked to’ or ‘associated with’ a certain disease, that suggests that there is a relationship, but it’s often unclear what it is. If it’s merely a cross-sectional study (a bunch of people are interviewed/measured at one point in time) even though they might have low levels of D, that doesn’t mean that inadequate D caused their disease, nor that upping the levels of D will cure it. It MIGHT, but the study doesn’t prove that. It might be that the disease caused the D levels to drop.

          There is much debate about D in the nutrition and medical research worlds and the consensus is that a lot more research is needed to truly understand how much we need and the best ways to get it. But for now for many health conditions, the research suggests that supplementing seems to be a reasonable approach. – nutrition professor and volunteer moderator, ‪ Martica Heaner, PhD‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

    3. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is converted by the liver into calcifediol or 25-hydroxyvitamin D. This calcifediol is what is usually measured in serum assays and has a half-life of 6 weeks. But there are receptors in our cells for cholecalciferol, which has a half life of only about 24 hours. Being that there is strong evidence that cholecalciferol is used for immune functions, I always dose myself with vitamin D each and every day.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738984/

          1. Thanks Dr. G. for this great video and it did generate great discussion about vitamin D.
            Thanks Allen Crider for sharing this u tube video of Dr Bruce Hollis which was great presentation.

  6. Yeah! Pop ups are back… just teasing all you who all bent over them. This video seems out of order, he did a whole series on Vit D already.

  7. Makes it so much simpler, doesn’t it, to just get rid of anything that comes from a cow, including casein and whey containing products, right? Or, how do you feel about the relationship, Dr.?

    1. drflora3rd: I’m not sure where you are coming from. Following is the NutritionFacts page for the topic of Asthma: http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/asthma/ Animal products, including dairy, are linked to asthma as you said. But that doesn’t mean that inadequate vitamin D isn’t also a risk factor, right? Can there be multiple risk factors? And thus ideally, we would address all the risk factors?
      .
      I can forward your question onto our medical moderators, but it would help to first get some clarification on what your question is. (Unless you think this reply sheds enough (sun) light on the matter.) Thanks.

  8. I’m another ex-asthmatic. I used to have to have an inhaler with me at all times in case an acute attack flared up. In fact, I had to receive an epinephrine injection during a particularly severe attack. Once I went vegan from vegetarian, I no longer had any attacks. At this point, over 25 years later, I don’t even own an inhaler! It all makes perfect sense, in hindsight, of course…

    1. That’s amazing Veggivet ! It really is a pleasure to read the comments from the ex-asthmatics on this forum. What a transformation! I hope you (all) mention to your doctor about your experience so that others may hopefully benefit. Thank you for sharing your story.

      1. You’re welcome, Susan. I’ll mention it next time I see a doctor, which might be another 20 years, as it’s been that long since I’ve needed to see one! Food is my medicine…(I know, I should get a checkup annually, but I’m a guy…)

    2. HI Veggivet, Yes, I’ve heard lots of no-more-asthma stories once people go vegan, and I found this myself, too. I was a vegetarian for 32 years but once I gave up dairy and went vegan…no more asthma! I can’t believe that I didn’t realize the connection for so many years, but I think we can live with low level symptoms and just deal with them rather than recognize that they are abnormal. I think many people do this with allergies. I know for a fact that cutting out the toxic components in dairy that are inflammatory is part of it, but it might be too that once you cut out dairy and go vegan, you leave much more room to eat even more fruits and veggies. Dr. Greger did a post on how those affect asthma here http://nutritionfacts.org/video/treating-asthma-with-fruits-and-vegetables/ – nutrition professor and volunteer moderator, ‪ Martica Heaner, PhD‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

  9. I read a interesting book over the christmas days. On chapter discussed the connection between antibiotics in children because of otitis media for example and the development of Asthma later – there is a positiv correlation*. The author (of course) has no idea of a healthy nutrition; so he get not the bend “why” so much children get otitis media (we know it ‘s also the milk consum) but his research about the connection of antibiotics and the health of the futur is interesting. The basic theme of the whole book is the human microbiom ans his influence on the people… on thing more – he also reported results of studies that the microbiom of the gut, for example, has a effect of our test. This may explain a bit, why some people are thinking that it is not possible to get over to a whole plant-based nutrition, because the gut bacteria say to the brain – we like to have meat not plants. and this would also explain, why the longing for meat goes down after a while we refused eating meat – the gut flora has changed and the bacteria longing for plants are now in the majority…
    So, like Dr. Greger always say – maybe it’s better to prevent Asthma, by not getting otitis media by not consuming cow milk as a child and take antibiotics only in case of life or death…
    *If anybody needs the source…. ask me ;-)

    1. The other prevailing theory about the increasing rate of asthma in children relates to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which holds that as our environment becomes more and more sanitized (think of all the anti-bacterial wipes, sprays, cleaners, etc., plus kids not playing in the dirt anymore) the immune system goes on a ‘search’ for something to attack. It often decides the lungs are an appealing target, and the inflammation begins…Of course, overuse of antibiotics by pediatricians will contribute to this as well. Can you quote the source for the statement that gut bacteria tell the brain ‘We want meat”.? Haven’t heard that one before…

      1. Yes, that’s the main point of the book, the “super duper hero hygiene”… he speaks of more conflicts, also the C-section, where the infants not get the bacterias of the mother like during a normal birth but the biotics of the hospital. Congratulation.
        One hint for the “meat-brain-conection” gives thr study of Petra AI et al.: Gut-microbiota-brain axis and its effect on neuropsychiatric disorders with suspected immune dysregulation; Clin Ther 2015; 37(5) S.984-95
        May you have heared of children with autism, that some of this children have a positiv response if they not concume gluten for example. There is an intersting study: Strunecka A: Gastointestinal disorders ans autism spectrum disorders:a causal link or a secondary consequence? In “Cellular and Molecular Biology of autism Spectrum disorder”, Bentham Science Puplisher, 2010, S.82 – 99

        The writer said, that some gut bacteria have a connection to the serotonin payout. I think it is a though worth, because on one single body cell comes 10 different bacterias – so we are more a bunch of bacteria then a bunch of cells. And all the bacteria communicate with each other… I’m not saying the bacteria control us but I think they have a big impact of our feeling.

  10. I increased my D3 as suggested and my life long Asthma wheezing has subsided. For my entire life no doctors have ever solved my breathing problem until now! Dr. Gregor you saved my life for without the ability to get adequate oxygen into my body nothing else matters. Please continue to do more research on asthma it is the most important health issue. Thank you

  11. As moderator on NF.org I wanted to address your question. However this site does not recommend any specific brands or endorse products. Perhaps some of the comments on the many Vit D videos shown may have mentioned a specific product that found beneficial. You can find many videos on Vit. D on NF.org (search below) and the comments following each video were numerous and complex. In addition, since you indicated you are a new vegan, do check out the videos on how Fruits and Vegetables can treat/prevent asthma. Hope that helps!

  12. 1. The articles referred to a range of 500 to 2,000 IU Vitamin D3 in Dr Gregor’s video. Please correct the transcript?
    2. Those trying to get vitamin D from sun exposure, please be aware that only 5% of the sun’s radiation can make vitamin D through our skin: the sun needs to be directly overhead, or enough to be able to see your shadow shorter than you are tall. So the ability to make vitamin D will change with your skin pigment, latitude, season as well as sunblock or clothing.
    3. As mentioned in the responses, if supplementing, we really do need to take vitamin D3 every day or at least every other day, since most of the health benefits do not last more than 24-48 hrs. We are apparently not designed to handle large doses infrequently, but do better with relatively smaller doses daily. Even though the blood level 25OHvitamin D stays elevated for weeks after a large bolus, it is only an indirect marker. Also, since vitamin D is fat-soluble, we should take supplements with fatty food; this can increase the absorption by as much as 40%.
    4. Regarding children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all infants start with 400 IU D3 daily, especially if breast-fed. We have seen studies demonstrating safety even at 2,000 IU D3 daily for 0-12months old. Vitamin D research suggests that when babies have doubled their weight around 6months, consider doubling their vitamin D3 (800 IU daily), tripling their birth weight at 12months then taking around 1,000 IU D3 daily (or 2,000 IU D3 every other day). Children will need approximately 1,000 IU vitamin D3 per 20lb. Since we do not all have reliable vitamin D receptors, a 25 OH-vitamin D blood level is the most accurate measure of sufficiency (goal at least 30ng/ml or 85nmol/L). Takes 2-3 months to reach steady state, so hold off on testing if you recently changed dosing. I do not suggest taking a multi-vitamin for vitamin D, since some studies suggest competition with vitamin A absorption in the gut (and most multi-vitamins have vitamin A). For more information, see grassrootshealth.net, VitaminDcouncil.org or Dr Holick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiGBVDcbFVk .
    5. I have read that cats are one of the very few animals that do NOT make vitamin D through sunshine. I guess, as carnivores, they must rely on their diet somehow…
    6. Consider also getting a good source of vitamin K2 (ideally 10gm daily natto or MK7 derived from natto/soy) as well as taking vitamin D… Hope to see more about this from Dr Gregor.
    Thanks so very much for presenting this insightful video and all of the comments! I love nutritionfacts!

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