The Truth About Vitamin D Deficiency and COPD

Is Vitamin D an Important Supplement in COPD?

Get Your Vitamin D with Sunshine. Photo courtesy of Flickr, user lisaluvz
Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in people with COPD, increasing in prevalence with disease severity. For years, studies have explored the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and COPD in an effort to connect the dots and somehow link the two together. To date, there is no existing evidence to support that vitamin D deficiency is related to an increased risk for COPD or to an increased prevalence of COPD exacerbation.
But, that's not saying that vitamin D, as a supplement, is not important. Let's explore this relationship a little further.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a natural substance produced by our bodies in response to exposure to sunlight. The importance of vitamin D starts in the womb and continues throughout our lifespan. It's primary role is to help our bodies absorb calcium from the foods we eat. Like calcium, it's essential to bone growth and development. Without vitamin D, our bodies wouldn't be able to absorb calcium, which would leave our bones brittle, weak and prone to fracture.

Variables Associated With Vitamin D Deficiency and COPD

Vitamin D deficiency is defined as having serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of less than, or equal to, 20 ng/ml. People with COPD, who are also deficient in Vitamin D, are more likely to

    Vitamin D Deficiency and COPD Exacerbation

    Studies have found that high-dose vitamin D supplementation in COPD patients with moderate levels of vitamin D deficiency does not reduce the incidence of COPD exacerbation. Supplementation may, however, reduce exacerbations in patients who have severe vitamin D deficiency (defined as having serum vitamin D levels of What the Research Says

    Because lack of Vitamin D is associated with higher mortality rates across the board, many experts believe that Vitamin D supplementation is an important, cost-effective way to manage disease prevention.

    Additionally, studies suggest that calcium and vitamin D supplementation in COPD patients who are deficient in these vitamins may reduce the risk of falling and osteoporosis-related fractures. Supplementation may also help reduce morbidity associated with COPD and prevent lung function from declining even further.

    Vitamin D deficiency is associated with worsening lung function and more rapid lung function decline in long-term smokers. Supplementation with vitamin D may help protect the lungs from the damaging effects of smoking.

    Benefits of Vitamin D Supplementation

    • may reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections in the general population
    • may have a protective effect against the damaging effects of smoking on the lungs
    • may help protect the immune system
    • may have anti-inflammatory effects beneficial to people with COPD
    • may improve muscle strength and exercise capacity allowing patients to obtain better results from pulmonary rehabilitation programs

    How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

    According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D levels above 30–40 ng/mL (75-–100 nmol/L) may reduce the risk of COPD. To reach these levels, most people need to take 1000–5000 international units (IU) (25–125 mcg) per day of vitamin D3, an active form of vitamin D that's produced under the skin. However, they also stress that, because there is considerable variation from person to person, proper dosage should be determined by measuring a patient's vitamin D blood levels before, and several months after, taking vitamin D3 supplements or increasing UVB exposure.

    For more information about Vitamin D, read the following:

    NOTE: Before you begin supplementing your diet with vitamin D, it's best to check with your health care provider about which supplement and dose is right for you.


    American Thoracic Society (2011, May 15). Vitamin D improves exercise outcomes in patients with COPD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from­ /releases/2011/05/110515201306.htm.

    Janssens W, Mathieu C, Boonen S, Decramer M. Vitamin D deficiency and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a vicious circle. Vitam Horm. 2011;86:379-99.

    Lehouck A et, al. High doses of vitamin D to reduce exacerbations in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Jan 17;156(2):105-14.

    Lange NE et. al. Vitamin d deficiency, smoking, and lung function in the normative aging study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012 Oct 1;186(7):616-21. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201110-1868OC. Epub 2012 Jul 19.

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