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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

Vitamin D's Crucial Role in the Immune System and Overall Health

Posted by Lisa Burkhart on Feb 5, 2024 10:30:00 AM
Lisa Burkhart



Vitamin D

We’ve just passed the shortest day of the year and are making our way back to the longer days of spring and summer again. With the shortage of daylight also comes a shortage of an essential vitamin, particularly for respiratory patients, vitamin D. In addition to numerous foods and beverages, vitamin D comes in a calorie free form from the sun. During winter months, people can be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. According to research, it is believed that vitamin D can have a positive effect on lung structure, increase lung muscle strength, and can spark an increased immune response against respiratory pathogens.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the body's immune system and overall health. There's evidence suggesting that vitamin D deficiency might be associated with an increased risk of certain lung diseases and respiratory infections. 

Relationship Between Vitamin D and Health


Respiratory Infections: Some studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, including the common cold, influenza, and pneumonia. Adequate levels of vitamin D might help reduce the risk of these infections or diminish their severity.

Asthma: Research has explored the relationship between vitamin D levels and asthma. Some studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency might be associated with a higher incidence or severity of asthma symptoms. However, more research is needed to determine the exact role of vitamin D in managing asthma.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with COPD. Studies have indicated that people with COPD often have lower levels of vitamin D, but the exact relationship and whether supplementation can improve outcomes in these individuals is still an area of ongoing research. The most convincing evidence yet was recently reported in Thorax. This study found that providing supplemental vitamin D reduced the rate of both moderate and severe COPD symptom escalation.

Lung Function: There's ongoing research examining the potential role of vitamin D in maintaining optimal lung function. Some studies suggest that adequate levels of vitamin D might be beneficial in preserving lung health and function. Studies have shown that vitamin D

Inflammation: Vitamin D is known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammatory processes play a significant role in various lung diseases, and vitamin D's anti-inflammatory properties might have implications for managing or preventing certain lung conditions.

Bone Health: Most people who suffer from chronic lung conditions use corticosteroids to mitigate symptoms and decrease the rate of exacerbation. Steroid use can negatively affect how the body absorbs and uses calcium and vitamin D. This can lead to loss of bone density, especially for post-menopausal women. Use of corticosteroids doesn’t cause bone loss in all users but it is still important to monitor vitamin D intake, as well as get regular bone density tests as advised by your doctor.

While there's evidence pointing towards a potential relationship between vitamin D levels and lung health, it's essential to note that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. More research is needed to understand the precise mechanisms and the extent of the impact of vitamin D on lung diseases. Additionally, individual factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environmental exposures can also influence the development and progression of lung conditions.

If you have concerns about your lung health or vitamin D levels, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional. They can assess your specific situation and provide guidance on appropriate supplementation, if necessary, along with other management strategies for lung diseases.

Vitamin D, often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," plays a crucial role in various physiological processes within the human body. Over recent years, extensive research has explored the potential relationship between vitamin D levels and lung health, focusing on its impact on lung diseases and respiratory conditions. This investigation has highlighted several intriguing connections that underline the importance of adequate vitamin D levels for optimal lung function and the potential implications of its deficiency in the development and progression of lung diseases.


The Basics of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin primarily known for its role in calcium and phosphorus metabolism, crucial for bone health. However, beyond its skeletal functions, vitamin D is involved in modulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, and exerting various regulatory effects on different organ systems, including the lungs.

Vitamin D Receptors in the Lungs:


The discovery of vitamin D receptors (VDRs) in lung tissue has sparked interest in understanding the potential impact of vitamin D on respiratory health. VDRs are present in various lung cells, including epithelial cells, immune cells, and smooth muscle cells. This distribution suggests a possible direct regulatory role of vitamin D in lung physiology.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Respiratory Infections:

Several studies have highlighted a potential link between low levels of vitamin D and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. Deficient levels of vitamin D might compromise the immune response, making individuals more prone to infections such as the common cold, influenza, and pneumonia. Adequate vitamin D levels have been associated with reduced incidence and severity of these infections.

Asthma and Vitamin D:

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the airways, has been a subject of interest in vitamin D research. Some studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency might contribute to the exacerbation and severity of asthma symptoms. However, the exact mechanisms underlying this relationship require further elucidation.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Vitamin D:

COPD, characterized by airflow limitation and chronic inflammation, has also been linked to vitamin D deficiency. Individuals with COPD often exhibit lower levels of vitamin D, prompting investigations into whether supplementation could potentially alleviate symptoms or slow disease progression.

Vitamin D's Anti-inflammatory Effects on Lung Diseases:

Inflammation is a hallmark of various lung diseases, and vitamin D's anti-inflammatory properties have raised interest in its potential therapeutic role. Studies have suggested that vitamin D might modulate inflammatory responses in the lungs, potentially impacting disease outcomes.

Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation:

While observational studies have indicated associations between vitamin D levels and lung health, interventional studies investigating the direct impact of vitamin D supplementation on preventing or managing lung diseases are ongoing. The outcomes of these studies may provide more conclusive evidence regarding the role of vitamin D in lung health.

Clinical Implications and Future Directions:

Understanding the intricate relationship between vitamin D and lung diseases holds promise for potential therapeutic interventions. However, further research is necessary to establish causation, define optimal vitamin D levels for lung health, and determine the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation in preventing or managing various lung conditions.

Recommended Daily Allowance

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for adults between 19 and 70 is 600 IU (international units). For those over 70, 800 IU is recommended.

Sources of Vitamin D


The Sun

The most common source of vitamin D is both cost and calorie free - the sun!  Go outside for 10 to 30 minutes if it is warm enough. If it’s cold outside, be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. Cold, dry air can irritate your bronchial tubes causing coughing and wheezing.


If you have a sensitivity to dairy products, vitamin D is available in supplemental form. However, nutrients are much more potent when coming from food. Youl may notice that there are two different types, vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.  D2 is derived from plant products and is found in foods that have been fortified as well as some supplements. D3 is produced in the human body and is often found in animal foods. Both are naturally occurring and are produced by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Fortified Foods

Some foods are fortified with vitamin D. Products like dairy items, orange juice, and cereals are sometimes labeled as, “fortified with vitamin D.” Sometimes different types of milk, such as soy, almond, or oat are also fortified with vitamin D.


Seafood is a great source of vitamin D as well as Omega 3 fatty acid, a proven anti-inflammatory. Salmon is tasty and versatile and is a great source of vitamin D. One 3.5 ounce serving can provide up to 526 IU of vitamin D.  Smoked or pickled herring and sardines are also packed with vitamin D. A 3.5 ounce portion contains roughly 113 IU of vitamin D.  Canned tuna is economical and can be used in a variety of ways. A 3.5 hours serving can provide up to 269 IU of vitamin D. Fish oil, such as cod liver oil, can provide vitamin D as well. 

Egg Yolks

Eggs can provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. The majority of protein can be found in the egg white. The vitamins and minerals, as well as the majority of fat, is contained in the yolk. One yolk can produce up to 37 IU of vitamin D. Keep in mind that free range chickens produce eggs with more vitamin D because of their exposure to sunlight. Pasture raised chickens can produce eggs that are as much as 3 to 4 times higher in vitamin D.


Mushrooms are one of the largest producers of vitamin D2. Wild mushrooms, such as morels are a good source of vitamin D because of their exposure to sunlight. One cup of morels can provide as much as 136 IU of vitamin D. One cup of cremini mushrooms can provide up to 1,110 IU of vitamin D.


In conclusion, the emerging body of research suggests a plausible association between vitamin D levels and lung health. While the exact mechanisms and clinical implications are still being investigated, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels appears to be crucial for optimal lung function and may potentially play a role in reducing the risk or severity of certain lung diseases. Continued research in this field is essential to unravel the full extent of vitamin D's impact on lung health and its potential therapeutic applications.


Topics: COPD, portable oxygen, Lung Health

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