Vitamin D lauded as protector against lung function impairment in smokers

Vitamin D could deliver smokers from the ashtray of their lung-lost habit, a new report finds.

Researchers in Boston assessed figurative smoke signals for nearly two decades and discovered that Vitamin D deficiency was indeed linked to lesser lung function in smokers. Published online in the Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the study measured vitamin D levels at three different intervals between 1984 and 2003; lung function was simultaneously evaluated via spirometry.

"We examined the relationship between vitamin D deficiency, smoking, lung function and the rate of lung function decline over a 20 year period in a cohort of 626 adult white men from the Normative Aging Study," said lead author Nancy E. Lange, MD, MPH, of the Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a news release. "We found that vitamin D sufficiency [defined as serum vitamin D levels of >20 ng/ml] had a protective effect on lung function and the rate of lung function decline in smokers."

The results left some study subjects struggling to exhale: Vitamin D-deficient participants were found to have had a mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) that was 12 ml less than those deemed vitamin D-proficient, who had a mean reduction of 6.5 ml. The subject pool, which consisted of both smokers and non-smokers, did not display any significant effects of vitamin D levels on lung function or lung function decline overall.

"Our results suggest that vitamin D might modify the damaging effects of smoking on lung function," Lange noted. "These effects might be due to vitamin D's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties."

Lange proposed that the study’s flicker of insight into the breadth of vitamin D’s capabilities could transform into a flare across several disciplines if other airy endeavors are pursued. "Future research should also examine whether vitamin D protects against lung damage from other sources, such as air pollution," she said.

The study does come equipped with its fair share of setbacks, Lange added. The fact that the data was observational only, not in trial format and its cohort was limited to mostly elderly men leaves behind a murky residue that’s difficult to see past when attempting to quantify what the report means for society as a whole. It’s also known that vitamin D levels can fluctuate over time, meaning what was average among the study’s age group could vary for other demographics that were not considered.

Thus, despite the modifying characteristics that vitamin D assumes, experts still recommend that patients not play with fire in the first place.

"While these results are intriguing, the health hazards associated with smoking far outweigh any protective effect that vitamin D may have on lung function,"Alexander C. White MS, MD, chair of the American Thoracic Society's Tobacco Action Committee piped in. "First and foremost, patients who smoke should be fully informed about the health consequences of smoking and in addition be given all possible assistance to help them quit smoking."

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