Dear Pharmacist: I read your Facebook post about people with asthma and how they should be dairy free. I feel better after just one week. I also read where you recommend two supplements for asthma that I just started (Coleus Forskholii and N-Acetylcysteine). You are saving my life, Suzy. What else? -- J.R., Rockwall, Texas
My answer will set you back about $10 per month. If you have even a flea's foot-sized interest in health matters, you've no doubt heard about the problems associated with too little vitamin D. A deficiency of this powerhouse vitamin has been implicated in just about everything from obesity, heart disease, cancer and international threats to world peace. OK, I'm exaggerating a little. Today, let's add yet another health problem to the list of maladies impaled on the lance of this nutritional white knight: Asthma.
Apparently, children reared in cold and humid climates have a higher incidence of asthma than children raised in sunnier climates. Sun provides vitamin D. Spanish researchers, headed by epidemiologist Alberto Arnedo-Pena, published these findings in the 2010 International Journal of Biometeorology. There's more: Results of a study presented in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care found that asthmatics with low vitamin D levels suffered more severe attacks than those with normal levels. Participants with normal D levels also responded better to medication treatment and had better overall lung function.
So how much vitamin D should you take? Base it on blood levels. Take vitamin D until your blood levels fall between 30 and 74 ng/mL, or you feel remarkably better. I believe that anything below 50 ng/mL is too low, so shoot for 50 to 70. In fact, I recommend vitamin D as Step 2 in my book, "Diabetes Without Drugs," because it improves insulin sensitivity more efficiently than some medications. That alone should make you take a nice deep breath.
If you supplement with D, measure your blood levels at least twice yearly to ensure that you don't get too much. Seriously, it's really hard to do! In 1999, Dr. Reinhold Vieth reviewed dozens of studies and fount it's practically impossible to become toxic on 2,000 IUs a day. Go shopping and you'll find bottles of D supplements at the pharmacy and health food store with dosages of 5,000 or 10,000 IU per capsule. People with SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, also benefit from extra D at this time of year.
I've been a pharmacist for 23 years, so I can tell you that over-the-counter vitamin D3 (aka cholecalciferol) is totally different from the drug that is vitamin D2 (aka ergocalciferol). D2 is synthetic and less potent than natural D3 supplements. Cod liver oil provides natural D3 plus healthy essential fatty acids. But the best and cheapest way to get vitamin D3 is from sunshine. Buy a bikini because you want sun on your belly and back. Your body will convert the D3 in your body much better than it can from supplements.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure your disease. Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. To ask her a question or to learn more about your health, visit DearPharmacist.com.