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Vitamin D linked to Healthy Lungs

Media Release
14 December 2005

Vitamin D linked to Healthy Lungs

A study by researchers from The University of Auckland has shown that Vitamin D may play a role in keeping our lungs healthy.

The study, by Associate Professors Peter Black and Robert Scragg from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, showed that people with very low levels of Vitamin D in their bodies had less healthy lungs than those with higher levels of the vitamin.

Dr Black, from the Department of Medicine says the difference in how well the lungs worked between those with the highest and lowest levels of Vitamin D was substantial.

“It was more pronounced than the difference in lung function between former smokers and non smokers,” he says.

“Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with other diseases such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Our research now shows that Vitamin D may also influence how well our lungs work, with greater levels of the vitamin contributing to healthier lungs.

“However further research is needed to determine just what its role is, and whether increases in Vitamin D would actually benefit patients with chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema.”

The results of the study appear in the latest issue of CHEST, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

In the study Dr Scragg and Dr Black analysed data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out from 1988 to 1994, and compared the lung health of 14,000 participants with different levels of Vitamin D.

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Each participant had their levels of Vitamin D measured, and was given a lung function test which measured the volume of air they could exhale. Lower levels of Vitamin D were associated with lower lung volumes.

Dr Black says the effect was more pronounced in Caucasians and African Americans than Hispanics.

“From that we can assume it would very likely apply to New Zealand Caucasians and is probably relevant to other ethnicities such as Maori and Pacific people.”

Overall, Vitamin D levels were found to be higher in men than women, were inversely related to body mass index, and dropped with age.

Dr Robert Scragg has been researching Vitamin D since the 1980s and says there is growing evidence that vitamin D may protect us from many diseases.

“While we must be conscious of the dangers of spending too much time out in the sun, it is still the best source of Vitamin D and everyone should spend some time in the sun each day to get their daily fix.”

Pale-skinned people need about 10 minutes each day of sum without sunscreen, while people with darker complexions – including Maori and Pacific people - need at least 20 minutes as their skin takes longer to absorb the sun’s rays.


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