4 Vitamins Important in COPD Treatment

The Benefits of Vitamin Supplementation in COPD

Vitamins have a history that involves a long-standing debate over their efficacy in the treatment of COPD. And, although many a research study has focused on this important topic, the controversy seems to be anything but over.

Recent findings suggest that eating foods packed with antioxidants and other vitamins provide important health benefits that go beyond that of general health and extend to the lungs, an important consideration for people with COPD. In light of these findings, you may want to plan your grocery shopping around foods that are rich in the following 4 vitamins:

Vitamin D

Get Your Vitamin D with Sunshine. Photo courtesy of Flickr, user lisaluvz

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that, unlike water-soluble vitamins that flush out in your urine, it's stored in your liver and fatty tissues. Water-soluble vitamins need regular replacement; fat-soluble vitamins generally don't.

Vitamin D is present in many of the foods you eat, including salmon, mackerel, beef or calf liver, egg yolks, yogurt, milk and cheese. It's also available as a supplement and produced by your body when you're exposed to sunlight.

Studies have found that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in people with COPD. Along with prolonged use of corticosteroids and widespread inflammation in COPD, being deficient in vitamin D induces bone destruction that often leads to osteoporosis. Together with calcium, vitamin D supplementation helps prevent osteoporosis.

Vitamin D deficiency may have a negative impact on quality of life in people with COPD. It may also contribute to reduced exercise capacity. Vitamin D supplementation may help prevent and treat osteoporosis and increase exercise capacity in COPD.

How much vitamin D do you need? That depends on who you talk to. The proper dose of vitamin D supplementation should be based upon a blood test that measures your vitamin D level before you start taking vitamin D supplements. Once vitamin D supplementation has begun, you should get another blood test in 3 months to make sure you're taking the right dose.

Warning: Too much vitamin D can be toxic. Talk to your health care provider before supplementing your diet with vitamin D.

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Vitamin C

COPD and Nutrition. Flickr.com, user Axis Grid

Vitamin C (absorbic acid), a water-soluble vitamin, has been used to treat everything from scurvy to depression to the common cold. Unlike some animals that can make their own vitamin C, people must get this sunshine vitamin from food and other sources like nutritional supplements.

In COPD, vitamin C supplementation has been linked to the following benefits:

  • Prevents cigarette-smoke induced emphysema in rats
  • Reduces muscle fatigue during exercise (when given intravenously)
  • Slows lung function decline in COPD
  • Protects against the harmful effects of air pollution

What should you do to get more vitamin C in your daily diet? Most experts recommend getting vitamin C from dietary sources (citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, berries, tomatoes) rather than from taking vitamin C supplements. For most people, a healthy diet provides an adequate amount of vitamin C. However, if your dietary intake is poor, talk to your health care provider about adding vitamin C supplements to your daily diet.

Warning: Too much vitamin C can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea headache, abdominal cramps, insomnia and kidney stones. Talk to your health care provider before you supplement your diet with vitamin C.

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Vitamin A

Salmon: Good Source of Vitamin A
Salmon: Good Source of Vitamin A. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Jacob Snavely

Vitamin A is another fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many of the foods you eat. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, a healthy immune system and reproduction. It also helps keep the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs working properly.

Studies have found that people with COPD have lower than normal levels of vitamin A. Supplementing your diet with vitamin A may help improve your lung function; it may also help prevent and treat emphysema.

You can get the recommended amounts of vitamin A from:

  • Beef liver and other organ meats
  • Salmon and other types of fatty fish
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Other types of vegetables, including broccoli, carrot and squash
  • Fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, and mangoes
  • Dairy products and fortified breakfast cereals

Warning: Because vitamin A supplementation has also been linked to lung cancer in smokers, don't take vitamin A supplements without first talking to your doctor.

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Vitamin E

Cereal: Good Source of Vitamin E
Cereal: Good Source of Vitamin E. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Jacob Snavely

Also a member of the fat-soluble vitamin family, vitamin E is found naturally in many foods, including vegetable oils, cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and wheat germ oil. It is also available as a nutritional supplement.

Vitamin E helps protect the body against cell damage caused by free radicals. It also acts to boost the immune system so the body can fight off bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin E is also good for the blood vessels, widening them so that blood won't clot within their walls.

In a study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 12 weeks of vitamin E supplementation was found to reduce DNA damage in COPD. Additionally, a report presented at the 2010 American Thoracic Society Conference found that vitamin E supplementation reduced the risk of developing COPD by 10% during 10 years of follow-up with participants in the Women’s Health Study.

Warning: Vitamin E has been linked to an increased risk of congestive heart failure in some people with heart disease. Additionally, high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. Do not take vitamin E supplements without first talking to your doctor.


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