3 Vitamins That May Impact Your Asthma

Can supplements help you avoid attacks?

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Some scientists believe that asthma and vitamin deficiencies are linked. It is thought that certain vitamins—most specifically vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin E—play a role in not only the development of asthma but also the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

This article explores the link between asthma and vitamin deficiencies and whether vitamin supplements have any impact on the risk or severity of this common inflammatory airway disease.

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How Asthma and Vitamin Deficiencies Are Linked

The link between asthma and vitamin deficiency is largely hypothetical. The hypothesis is based on the long-held assumption that asthma is more common in countries that consume a Western diet (rich in refined sugar, fats, and processed foods) than those that rely on real foods (like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).

In turn, because a Western diet is linked to an increased risk of vitamin deficiencies, many experts have jumped to the conclusion that vitamin deficiencies are the central link to asthma.

The current evidence does not support the theory. According to a 2015 review of studies published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there is no clear association between the Western diet and the rate of asthma in adults.

With that said, the researchers concluded that there may be a link between a Western diet and the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms. Whether this is due to vitamin deficiencies alone is unknown. Further research is needed.

Recap

Currently, there is no evidence that a Western diet increases the risk of asthma. However, there is evidence that a Western diet may increase the severity or frequency of asthma attacks.

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in the skin following exposure to the sun. It is also found in dairy and other food products. Vitamin D is essential to bone health and also helps strengthen the immune response.

Foods that are rich sources of vitamin D include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Mushrooms
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese

Numerous studies have suggested a link between vitamin D and asthma, although the quality of the studies is generally poor.

A 2017 review of studies published in Cureus suggested that vitamin D can be effective as a complementary therapy for people with asthma. What the researchers could not say is how vitamin D is meant to influence asthma symptoms.

Similarly, a 2017 review in Clinical Therapy reported that low levels of vitamin D correspond to a higher rate of asthma attacks. Even so, there was no evidence that vitamin D supplements could either prevent or treat asthma.

Recap

Although some research suggests that vitamin D supplements may benefit people with asthma, the evidence supporting the claim is weak. There is no evidence that vitamin D can prevent asthma.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits. It is touted as a defense against the common cold.

Among the richest food sources of vitamin C are:

  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Green leafy vegetables

Vitamin C also has antioxidant properties that may benefit people with asthma. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals that cause long-term damage to cells.

It is thought that by reducing oxidative stress in the lungs, airway hypersensitivity—a central feature of asthma—may be reduced.

To date, there is little evidence to support the claim. While some studies suggest that vitamin C may reduce bronchoconstriction (the narrowing of the airways) following extreme exertion, there is no real evidence that it can either prevent or treat exercise-induced asthma or any other form of asthma.

Recap

There is no strong evidence that vitamin C can prevent airway hypersensitivity or bronchoconstriction that contributes to asthma attacks.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in nuts, seeds, oils, and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is important to the health and function of your eyes, brain, skin, and reproductive organs.

Among the best food sources of vitamin E are:

  • Avocado
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Fish
  • Olive oil
  • Shellfish, like shrimp
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds and other seeds
  • Tofu

Like vitamin C, vitamin E has antioxidant effects that may benefit people with asthma. Even so, most of the evidence linking asthma and vitamin C is weak.

A 2013 review published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine could find no solid evidence that vitamin E had any effect on either severity, frequency, or prevention of asthma attacks.

However, there is evidence that high doses of tocopherol, a major form of vitamin E, may impair lung function and increase airway hypersensitivity in people with allergic asthma.

Recap

There is no evidence that vitamin E supplements can either prevent or treat asthma. In fact, high doses of tocopherol, a major form of vitamin E, may increase the risk of attacks in people with allergic asthma.

The Verdict

While vitamin deficiencies are commonly noted in people with asthma, there is no evidence that they "cause" asthma. More often, vitamin deficiencies are an indication of poor health that can increase a person's susceptibility to infections, allergies, and other common triggers of asthma.

A 2017 review in Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine concluded that, based on the current research, "there is not enough evidence to support the usefulness of vitamin C, E, or D to reduce asthma exacerbations (attacks)."

That is not to suggest that vitamin supplements have no benefits. Many vitamins can reduce the risk of viral respiratory infections, like the common cold, that can trigger an asthma attack. That is no small feat given that 44% of all asthma attacks are believed to be associated with a viral respiratory infection.

Recap

The current body of evidence does not support the use of vitamin C, vitamin D, or vitamin E supplements in the treatment or prevention of asthma attacks.

Summary

Vitamin deficiencies are common in people with asthma. There are some experts who believe that such deficiencies are linked to an increased risk of asthma. Others contend that vitamin supplements can help reduce the frequency or severity of asthma attacks. The deficiencies most often cited are vitamins C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

To date, there is no strong evidence that vitamins can either prevent or treat asthma. On the contrary, the overuse of tocopherol, a major form of vitamin E, may increase the risk of an attack in people with allergic asthma.

This does not suggest that vitamins have no benefits. Certain supplements can bolster the immune system and reduce the risk of viral respiratory infections like the common cold. Studies suggest that as many as 44% of asthma attacks are triggered by such infections.

A Word From Verywell

If you decide to use vitamin supplements for any reason, it is important to understand that taking high doses poses certain health risks.

Taking too much vitamin D can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and kidney stones. Too much vitamin C can also lead to nausea, diarrhea, and kidney stones. Vitamin E supplements can cause excessive bleeding if overused.

Speak with a healthcare provider before using any supplement to ensure that it doesn't interact with any medications you are taking. As a general rule, never exceed the dose on the product label. More is not necessarily better.

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17 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.
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