London, U.K.—For chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients who are deficient in vitamin D, supplementation appears to significantly reduce exacerbations, according to a new study.

The report in the journal Thorax, points out, however, that the effect was not seen in COPD patients with higher levels of the vitamin.

Queen Mary University of London–led researchers determined that the use of vitamin D supplements led to a 45% reduction in lung attacks among COPD patients who were deficient.

“New treatments are urgently needed to prevent COPD attacks,” noted lead researcher Adrian Martineau, PhD. “Our study shows that giving supplements to vitamin D-deficient COPD patients nearly halves their rate of potentially fatal attacks.

“Vitamin D supplementation is safe, and it costs just a few pence to supplement a person for a year—so this is a potentially highly cost-effective treatment that could be targeted at those who have low vitamin D levels following routine testing,” adds Martineau, who said that about a fifth of COPD patients in the U.K. have low levels of vitamin D.

The study is based on a new analysis of data from 469 patients across three clinical trials in the U.K., Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Results indicate that supplementation did not influence the overall rate of moderate/severe COPD exacerbations (adjusted incidence rate ratio (aIRR) 0.94, 95% CI, 0.78-1.13), although subgroup analysis suggested that protective effects were seen in participants with baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of less than 25 nmol/L (aIRR 0.55, 95% CI, 0.36-0.84) but not in those with baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of 25 nmol/L or greater (aIRR 1.04, 95% CI, 0.85-1.27; P for interaction = .015).

Researchers note that vitamin D did not influence the proportion of participants experiencing at least one serious adverse event (adjusted OR 1.16, 95% CI, 0.76-1.75).

“Vitamin D supplementation safely and substantially reduced the rate of moderate/severe COPD exacerbations in patients with baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels <25 nmol/L but not in those with higher levels,” study authors conclude.

Patients in the trials received doses of oral vitamin D ranging from 30 micrograms daily to 2,500 micrograms monthly.

Researchers point out that their study is limited by the small number of trials and that results should be interpreted cautiously.

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