Consuming a well-rounded diet that supports your immune system can help reduce the risk of some infections, but certain vitamins and minerals have earned a place in the limelight for their potential association with reducing the risk of certain conditions, especially common respiratory complaints. A recent study has turned the focus on vitamins A, D, and E after finding an inverse association between the intake of these vitamins and respiratory illnesses, such as colds, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The researchers chose to look at these vitamins due to their known roles in immune function and/or respiratory health. Vitamin D plays a role in immune health. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that vitamin D supplementation prevented acute respiratory tract infections, especially in those who were vitamin D deficient. Vitamin A plays an important role in lung tissue development, maintenance, and regeneration. As such, chronic vitamin A deficiency may alter the lung epithelial lining and risk of dysfunction. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that aids the immune system. Studies have found associations with lung health, including potentially preventing asthma and upper respiratory infections.
For this observational study, researchers looked at data from a representative sample of 6,115 adults in the United Kingdom using information from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme. They identified diet and supplement intake, focusing on vitamins A, C, D, and E. Then they compared the data with the data of those who had self-reported respiratory complaints; these complaints included both infectious and chronic diseases, such as breathlessness, weak chest, collapsed lung, throat infection, pneumonia, and others.
For vitamins A and E, both dietary and supplemental intake related to a reduced prevalence of respiratory illness, while vitamin D intake from supplements rather than diet led to fewer incidents of respiratory disease. There was insufficient data to make an association with vitamin C.
Although this study points to a potentially important relationship, it’s important to note some limitations. It was observational in nature, meaning that these findings merely highlight an association rather than any type of cause-and-effect relationship. In addition, only 33 of more than 6,000 participants identified any kind of respiratory complaints. Another study likewise found an association between respiratory health and these fat-soluble vitamins. It found that children with recurrent respiratory infections had significantly lower serum levels of vitamins A, D, and E than those in the control group.
Although more research is necessary to elucidate the impact of these vitamins on respiratory health, they may help support a healthy immune response. Any efforts to reduce these vitamin deficiencies and other immune-supportive vitamins and minerals may help promote respiratory health.
By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS