There are various benefits to taking Vitamin D, but perhaps one of the least well known is its potential to treat asthma. The symptoms of asthma arise from inflammation of the airways, thought to be triggered by a malfunctioning immune response. The immune system in those with asthma overreacts to harmless triggers such as dust mites, pollen or pollution.
A recent study carried out by researchers at King's College London, on behalf of Asthma UK, looked into whether taking Vitamin D has any effect on production of a molecule called interleukin-177A (IL-17A). This molecule is produced by white blood cells and is thought to be related to the malfunctioning immune response found in those with asthma. IL-17A normally protects the body against infections, but it is known to make asthma symptoms worse. It is produced by immune cells known as T helper 17 (TH17) cells.
The research looked at the effects in people who had not previously responded to steroid treatments for asthma, compared to those who had and a control group who didn't have asthma. 10 healthy adults were compared with 28 patients who had moderate to severe asthma and their white blood cells and TH17 cells were extracted and analysed. Of those diagnosed with asthma, 18 had not responded to oral steroid treatment.
The white blood cells were then grown in the laboratory, with or without Vitamin D and a steroid treatment, to determine how much IL-17A was produced.
The results showed that Vitamin D lowered the production of IL-17A significantly in the cells of all the groups tested. This included those who were resistant to steroid treatments.
At present, severe asthma is often treated with steroids but these can have undesirable side effects. Some people can also become steroid resistant, making the condition more difficult to treat and leaving sufferers vulnerable to frequent, severe and even life-threatening asthma attacks.
The study has raised the question of whether Vitamin D is a good option to use alongside prescribed steroid-based medicines, with a view to reducing reliance on steroid-based medicines in the long term.
Vitamin D is obtained mostly through sunlight exposure, food and supplements and is a vitamin that plays an important part in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for our bones. It also plays an integral role in cell-to-cell communication throughout the entire body.
At this stage there is no guarantee that Vitamin D could be used to treat asthma, however clinical trials looking at this possibility are ongoing, with the aim of ultimately improving the overall health and quality of life for those with the condition.