The Truth About Vitamin D Deficiency and COPD

Recent studies have found vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of COPD and severe COPD, although there is no existing evidence to support that it plays a role in COPD exacerbation in people with moderate levels of vitamin D deficiency. Let's explore this relationship a little further.

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Why We Need Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a natural substance produced by our bodies in response to exposure to sunlight. The importance of vitamin D starts in the womb and continues throughout our lifespan. Its primary role is to help our bodies absorb calcium from the foods we eat. Like calcium, it's essential to bone growth and development. Without vitamin D, our bodies wouldn't be able to absorb calcium, which would leave our bones brittle, weak, and prone to fracture.

Vitamin D Deficiency and COPD

Vitamin D deficiency is defined as having serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of less than, or equal to, 20 ng/ml.

Studies have found that high-dose vitamin D supplementation in COPD patients with moderate levels of vitamin D deficiency does not reduce the incidence of COPD exacerbation. Supplementation may, however, reduce exacerbations in patients who have severe vitamin D deficiency.

People with COPD who are also deficient in Vitamin D are more likely to have the following health conditions:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Nicotine addiction

In addition, studies suggest that calcium and vitamin D supplementation in COPD patients who are deficient in these vitamins may reduce the risk of falling and osteoporosis-related fractures.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with worsening lung function and more rapid lung function decline in long-term smokers. Supplementation with vitamin D may help protect the lungs from the damaging effects of smoking.

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D levels above 30–40 ng/mL (75–100 nmol/L) may reduce the risk of COPD. To reach these levels, most people need to take 1,000–5,000 international units (IU) (25–125 mcg) per day of vitamin D3, an active form of vitamin D that's produced under the skin. However, they also stress that, because there is considerable variation from person to person, proper dosage should be determined by measuring a patient's vitamin D blood levels before, and several months after, taking vitamin D3 supplements or increasing UVB exposure.

Before you begin supplementing your diet with vitamin D, it's best to check with your healthcare provider about which supplement and dose are right for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zhu M, Wang T, Wang C, Ji Y. The association between vitamin D and COPD risk, severity, and exacerbation: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2016;11:2597-2607. doi:10.2147/COPD.S101382

  2. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). Vitamin D: Fact sheet for health professionals.

  3. Lehouck A, Mathieu C, Carremans C, et al. High doses of vitamin D to reduce exacerbations in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(2):105-14. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-156-2-201201170-00004

  4. Persson LJ, Aanerud M, Hiemstra PS, Hardie JA, Bakke PS, Eagan TM. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is associated with low levels of vitamin D. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(6):e38934. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038934

  5. Janssens W, Mathieu C, Boonen S, Decramer M. Vitamin D deficiency and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a vicious circle. Vitam Horm. 2011;86:379-99. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-386960-9.00017-4

  6. Lange NE, Sparrow D, Vokonas P, Litonjua AA. Vitamin D deficiency, smoking, and lung function in the Normative Aging Study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012;186(7):616-21. doi:10.1164/rccm.201110-1868OC

  7. Vitamin D Council. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Additional Reading

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.