A leading cause of death, illness, and disability in the U.S., an estimated 10 million American adults were diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in 2000, though data from a national health survey suggests that as much as 24 million were actually affected. In 2000 alone, 119,000 deaths and over 726,000 hospitalizations were caused by COPD. 2003 brought in 124,816 deaths.
Fortunately, results from a study presented at the ATS 2011 International Conference in Denver, Colorado reveal that vitamin D supplements may help patients with COPD benefit more from pulmonary rehabilitation programs.
Miek Hornikx, a Belgian physiotherapist and doctoral student in the department of pneumology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium says
“Our study shows that high doses of vitamin D supplementation on top of a standard rehabilitation program improve the outcome in terms of exercise capacity and respiratory muscle strength.”
50 COPD patients with a history of exacerbations and referrals for rehabilitation were randomly assigned to receive either a monthly dose of vitamin D or a placebo over the course of three months. At the beginning of the period and again after the completion of the rehabilitation programs, peripheral and respiratory muscle strength, exercise capacity and vitamin D levels were measured. Patients were also asked to complete a quality of life survey before and after.
The vitamin D group were administered 100,000 IUs (internation units) of vitamin D in their monthly dose – the recommended U.S. daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 IUs daily for adults up to age 70 and 800 IUs daily for those over 70. Vitamin D deficiency is common among COPD patients and is often linked with diet and lack of sunlight exposure. Often, sufferers are limited in physical activity as a result of difficulty breathing associated with the disease, perhaps resulting in less exposure to sunlight. It’s a bit of a tricky situation that way.
“COPD can be considered as a respiratory disease with important non-respiratory consequences, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and muscle weakness,” she said. “These consequences eventually will be negatively influenced by physical inactivity which, along with exercise intolerance, is a common feature among patients with COPD and is proven to be related to mortality. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood have been related with muscle weakness, a major target for respiratory rehabilitation and increased risk of falls.”
She adds, “Since vitamin D is often depleted in patients with COPD, we wanted to see if vitamin D supplementation would have a beneficial effect on rehabilitation among these patients, perhaps by increasing muscle strength.”
The results were heartening: At the end of the study, researchers found that patients treated with vitamin D had a significant improvement in exercise capacity and respiratory muscle strength compared to the placebo group.
“These results support the idea that correcting vitamin D deficiency by adding vitamin D supplements to training programs allows COPD patients to achieve better results from rehabilitation, including improvements in muscle strength and exercise capacity,” Ms. Hornikx said.
Schoenstadt, MD, Arthur. “COPD Statistics: An Overview.” EMedTV. Clinaero, Inc. Web. 20 May 2011.
“Vitamin D Improves Exercise Outcomes in Patients With COPD.” Science Daily. Science Daily LLC, 15 May 2011. Web. 20 May 2011. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110515201306.htm.