HomeMedicineInternal MedicineCan vitamin D supplements protect against COPD attacks?

Can vitamin D supplements protect against COPD attacks?

In a recent study, researchers examined whether vitamin D supplementation may be the key to reducing COPD exacerbations or attacks.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects as many as 170 million people worldwide. A COPD attack may occur from a viral infection, which exacerbates lung function. Vitamin D is believed to be beneficial to those with COPD. Vitamin D is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects, but data from randomized control trials are mixed in their support. Jolliffe and colleagues performed a meta-analysis to synthesize current data on vitamin D effect on COPD attack and published these results in the journal Thorax.

The researchers examined randomized controlled trials of people with COPD who received or did not receive vitamin D (i.e. placebo). They were particularly interested in collecting trials that were double-blinded. The authors were able to retrieve 187 studies, but only four studies were ultimately eligible for use in their systematic review. They determined that the risk of bias for the studies were fairly low.

The results showed that the severity of COPD attacks did not seem to change, regardless of whether vitamin D was received or not. Those who had a minimum of one COPD attack were shown to not differ that much regardless of whether they received vitamin D or not. In addition, vitamin D levels at the beginning of the study that were lower than 25 nmol/L did seem to have an influence on vitamin D effect on COPD attacks by lowering the amount of COPD attacks.

Vitamin D had no obvious effects on people with COPD

Overall, the use of vitamin D had no real discernible effect on people with moderate-severe COPD attacks, regardless of their Vitamin D use status (ie. Vitamin D treatment or placebo). It seems that the levels of vitamin D do matter in discerning any possible effect of vitamin D supplementation on COPD severity.

The authors concluded that there may be other factors that could be contributing to any differences seen between the groups. If participants were vitamin D deficient, the rates of COPD attacks would reduce as a by-product of receiving needed vitamin D. Those who are not vitamin D deficient may have some other factors at play.

One strength of this study is its use of high-quality studies. However, there were too few studies to test for biases. As a result, conclusions drawn from this study may not be completely accurate. Regardless, the authors recommend checking the vitamin D concentrations of those with COPD. If they are vitamin D deficient, it might be beneficial to provide vitamin D to those in need.

Written by Olajumoke Marissa Ologundudu B.Sc. (Hons)

Reference: Jolliffe, DA et al. Vitamin D to prevent exacerbations of COPD: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data from randomised controlled trials. Thorax. 2019;1-9.doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2018-212092


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