UNMC study suggests vitamin D could reduce lung inflammation in asthma, COPD

In the first study of its kind, results of a UNMC research study suggests that vitamin D may be important for humans exposed to agricultural organic dust. In the study, researchers found a significant decrease in lung inflammation in mice exposed to hog barn dust that received high doses of vitamin D.

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Principal investigator Jill Poole, M.D., worked with a number of UNMC researchers including Todd Wyatt, Ph.D., shown here, and lead author, Gregory Golden, M.D., Deb Romberger, M.D., Daniel Reiff, Michael McCaskill, Ph.D., Christopher Bauer and Angela Gleason.
"We found that the relatively high vitamin D treatment group had significantly decreased lung inflammation. The mice still got inflammation but didn't get it as bad," said Jill Poole, M.D., associate professor in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine and principal investigator of the study.

Past studies in the U.S. have shown relationships with vitamin D and various airway inflammatory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"We know that vitamin D changes the expression of key molecules that respond to the dust, and through this response, we think vitamin D may be helpful in lessening disease brought on by agricultural dust," Dr. Poole said.

Farmers exposed to high levels of organic dust

Workers on today's farms are exposed to a variety of high levels of agricultural organic dust - dust that comes from feed, bedding and livestock, which includes mold, pollen, bacteria, pesticides, and chemicals. Exposure can lead to inflammation in the lungs and a risk of developing COPD.

Over time, exposure to organic dust can result in serious respiratory illnesses, such as organic dust toxic syndrome and Farmer's lung.

Dr. Poole said initial exposure in humans to organic dust induces an intense airway inflammatory response that wanes over time, but repetitive exposure causes an increased risk of lung function decline, persistent inflammation and progressive respiratory impairment.

Researchers used unique mouse models that were exposed to hog barn dust. One group received a high vitamin D diet and the other a low vitamin D diet.

Have you taken your Vitamin D?

Based on the initial findings in mice, Dr. Poole hopes that those with or without lung disease exposed to agricultural dust consider taking vitamin D. She also recommends they ask primary care providers to check vitamin D levels to find out if they are deficient.

"Since vitamin D is inexpensive, readily available and safe, if you don't take more than 4,000 IUs daily, there's no downside," she said. "We're learning more and more about vitamin D and its benefits for a variety of health issues.


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More on the study

The study, published in the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology, was funded by:
  • The National Institute of Health Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety; and
  • Health Agricultural Safety and Health Center at the UNMC College of Public Health.