By Jenny Hope Daily Mail
Vitamin D could help asthma patients breathe more easily, claim British researchers.
Scientists at King’s College London have discovered vitamin D has the potential to significantly cut the symptoms of sufferers.
They say it may one day be prescribed as a treatment alongside conventional steroids, but reducing the need for medication.
A new study found the ‘sunshine’ vitamin resulted in lower levels of a natural chemical in the body that aggravates symptoms in asthma patients and cuts the effectiveness of steroids.
More than five million Britons suffer asthma, including 1.4 million children, and the disease causes 1,400 deaths each year.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways, causing them to constrict and resulting in attacks of breathlessness and wheezing which can be fatal.
Severe asthma is currently treated with steroid tablets which can have harmful side effects.
Many sufferers have a steroid resistant variation of the condition making it even more difficult to treat and putting them at greater risk of hospitalisation from severe, even life-threatening, asthma attacks.
In a study funded by Asthma UK charity, a team of scientists at King’s identified a mechanism through which Vitamin D can reduce asthma symptoms, providing a potential target for future treatments.
IL -17A is a natural chemical which helps to defend the body against infection, but is known to exacerbate asthma and reduce responsiveness to steroids when produced in larger amounts.
The team examined the production of IL-17A and levels of the chemical in cells from 18 steroid resistant asthma patients and 10 patients who responded to steroids, as well as a control group of 10 healthy people.
Results showed that patients with asthma had much higher levels of IL-17A than those without asthma and patients with steroid resistant asthma expressed the highest levels of IL-17A.
Further tests showed that while steroids were unable to lower the production of IL-17A in cells from patients with asthma, vitamin D significantly cut the production of IL-17A in cells from all patients studied.
The results demonstrate that vitamin D could potentially provide an effective add-on treatment for all asthma sufferers, reducing the amount of steroid-based medicines prescribed.
There is growing evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be responsible for triggering a range of diseases, including several cancers.
The body makes most of its vitamin D from sunlight, although oily fish is a good dietary source.
Professor Catherine Hawrylowicz from the Medical Research Council & Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at King’s, who led the study, said the findings were ‘very exciting’.
She said ‘They show that Vitamin D could one day be used not only to treat people with steroid resistant asthma but also to reduce the doses of steroids in other asthma patients, reducing the risk of harmful side effects.
‘The results are so positive that we are testing this in a clinical trial in steroid resistant asthma patients to further research the possibilities of vitamin D as a potential treatment.’
The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Malayka Rahman, Research Analysis and Communications Officer at Asthma UK, said: ‘For the majority of people with asthma, current available medicines are an effective way of managing the condition but we know that they don’t work for everyone, which is why research into new treatments is vital.
‘We also know that many people with asthma have concerns about the side effects of their medicines so if vitamin D is shown to reduce the amount of medicines required, this would have an enormous impact on people’s quality of life. We look forward to the results of the clinical trial.’
Ginger could provide a new route for helping asthma patients, say US researchers.
They found tissue samples taken from human airways became more relaxed when exposed to purified components of the spicy root also may have properties that help asthma patients breathe more easily.
The ginger extracts enhanced the effect of medication known as beta-agonists which are commonly prescribed to people with asthma.
Researcher Elizabeth Townsend, of Columbia University Department of Anesthesiology, said ‘In our study, we demonstrated that purified components of ginger can work synergistically with beta-agonists to relax airway smooth muscle [sic]
‘These compounds may provide additional relief of asthma symptoms when used in combination.’
The results of the study will be presented at the American Thoracic Society 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia.