Healthbeat Report: Controlling Asthma

September 29, 2011 8:48:13 PM PDT
Vitamin D, which is a product of sun exposure, is rapidly gaining status as a wonder nutrient for everything from cancer to multiple sclerosis. Asthma is no exception. Recent studies suggest lack of Vitamin D can impact the disease. What sounds logical, however, doesn't always pan out.

Local patients are getting in on a study to see if Vitamin D is not only safe but worth the effort.

Mary Marek has taken up the harmonica for two reasons: she loves the blues and she's willing to try anything to help strengthen her lungs. Marek has asthma and has been struggling with it for years.

"I've been in intensive care. I've been code red a couple of times," she said. "It's like you are downing."

Marek takes preventative medication but like many other patients it's not always a guarantee her asthma will stay under control. She knows the usual triggers to watch for: ragweed season, cats, and cigarette smoke.

"There's been substantial information that people with low levels of vitamin D levels have increased risk of asthma and may have more severe asthma," said Dr. Lewis Smith, pulmonologist, Northwestern Medicine.

Several Chicago-area hospitals, including Northwestern and UIC, are taking part in a study to find out if Vitamin D can help make inhaled cortico steroids work better. There are several reasons as to why this might work.

"Vitamin D may be able to temper some of the inflammation, the irritation that occurs in patients with asthma," said Dr. Smith. "Another way it may work is that Vitamin D may be able to make inhaled steroids, which is the major treatment with people with asthma, it may allow these inhaled steroids to work more effectively."

There's one catch. Participants will not know if they are actually getting the vitamin or a pretend pill.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. Those with insufficient Vitamin D levels and asthma that is not well controlled are eligible to enroll in the main part of the study.

"In some cases we might even find you might need less medications for asthma. So this is the exciting part of the study," said Dr. Jerry Krishnan, pulmonologist, University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.

But the researchers are quick to temper their enthusiasm with a warning for anyone who considers self-medicating by taking Vitamin D supplements on their own.

"Definitely not a good idea," said Dr. Krishnan. "Sometimes while the logic may be there, when you actually conduct a study you realize people don't get better. In some cases we find what we think will be a beneficial treatment actually has harm."

Marek's son also suffers from asthma. She says the hope of a healthier future for him is reason enough to be part of the research.

"I'm very passionate about it...there should be a cure there should be. And if it is as easy as Vitamin D, how easy is that," said Marek.

This project is being funded by the National Institutes of Health and some 17 centers across the country will be enrolling patients. Hospitals in the Chicago area are participating.

For more information on how you can participate in the VIDA study, please visit:

You can also follow the study on Facebook at:"

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