EXPERT REACTION: Vitamin D deficiency linked to childhood asthma

CC-0
Embargoed until: Publicly released:
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute have found children with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop asthma.
  • Location of Interest:
  • Australia
  • WA
Telethon Kids Institute
  • Health / Medical
  • Environment / Climate / Energy
  • Society / Lifestyle
Last updated: Tue 28 Mar 2017

Media Release

From: Telethon Kids Institute

Researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute have found children with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop asthma.

In the world first study, researchers tracked vitamin D levels from birth to age 10 in Perth children at high risk for asthma and allergy.

The findings, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed repeated bouts of vitamin D deficiency in early childhood were linked to higher rates of asthma at aged 10, as well as allergy and eczema. 

Lead author Dr Elysia Hollams from the Telethon Kids Institute said the findings shed new light on a controversial area of research.

“We know vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune system and promoting healthy lung development,” said Dr Hollams. 

“But while it has been suggested that inadequate vitamin D may be a factor contributing to the surge in asthma rates over recent decades, previous studies investigating the relationship have yielded conflicting results. There has been a lack of research looking at whether vitamin D deficiency is more detrimental at certain periods in childhood.”

“Our study is the first to track vitamin D levels from birth to asthma onset, and it has shown a clear link between prolonged vitamin D deficiency in early childhood and the development of asthma”

“We’ve also shown for the first time that babies deficient in vitamin D have higher levels of potentially harmful bacteria in their upper airways, and are more susceptible to severe respiratory infections.”

“Earlier research by our team and others around the world has identified the first two years of childhood as a critical period during which allergies and chest infections can combine to drive asthma development in susceptible children. Our new findings identify vitamin D deficiency as a co-factor that may promote this process.”

But Dr Hollams said there were still many unknowns in the field of vitamin D research and cautioned against rushing out and purchasing vitamin D supplements.

“We still don’t know what the optimal level of vitamin D is for good lung health and immune function, and we don’t know if supplementation would address this issue, or if healthy sun exposure is what is required, given that vitamin D is an indirect measure of recent sun exposure.”

Co-Author on the study Professor Prue Hart said the findings were a significant endorsement that vitamin D levels may be important throughout childhood. 

“UV radiation, from sunlight, is the best natural source of vitamin D,” Professor Hart said. “However, one should know their skin type and should not ignore sun safe guidelines.”
 “In a country like Australia where too much sun exposure can prove harmful, it's all about finding a safe and sensible balance between exposure and need.”

“Both children and adults in the southern parts of Australia should aim for sun exposure in the middle of the day during winter to boost vitamin D levels. In summer, it’s still important to wear sun protection during the hottest parts of the day and when the UV index is 3 or above.” 

-- ENDS -- 

Study’s main findings: 

  • Allergic immune responses were more common in children with low current vitamin D in the first few years
  • Repeated periods of vitamin D deficiency in the first decade were linked to higher rates of current asthma, allergy or eczema at age 10 years
  • Children with vitamin D deficiency at 6 months of age were more likely to experience two conditions previously associated with heightened asthma risk: increased colonisation of the upper airways by harmful bacteria and increased susceptibility to severe lower respiratory infections involving fever

Available for interview: 

  • Lead author, Dr Elysia Hollams, Telethon Kids Institute 
  • Co-author, Professor Prue Hart, Telethon Kids Institute

Watch a short video on the findings here.

About Telethon Kids Institute:

The Telethon Kids Institute is one of the largest, and most successful medical research institutes in Australia, comprising a dedicated and diverse team of more than 500 staff and students.

We've created a bold blueprint that brings together community, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and funders, who share our vision to improve the health and wellbeing of children through excellence in research.

The Institute is headed by leading paediatrician and infectious diseases expert Professor Jonathan Carapetis, with Founding Director Professor Fiona Stanley now Patron.

Telethon Kids is independent and not-for-profit. The majority of funding comes from our success in winning national and international competitive research grants.  We also receive significant philanthropic support from corporate Australia and the community.

 

Document type Source Extra info Type / Size Last modified
 Video Telethon Kids Institute Short video on the findings Web page 03 Nov 2016 4:17pm
 Research Telethon Kids Institute Visit our website for more information Web page 03 Nov 2016 5:34pm

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives and reflect independent opinion on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Raymond Mullins is a Canberra-based clinical immunology and allergy physician.

There have been a a number of research studies over the last decade examining the possible role of vitamin D in influencing the incidence and severity of a ran allergy related ge of disorders including severity of wintertime eczema, risk of respiratory infections, risk of asthma worsening triggered by infection and even the risk of developing early childhood food allergy. In part, this is because vitamin D can influence components of the developing immune system, and increase the production of antibacterial molecules within the nose and lungs and skin. A recent UK-based analysis of asthma exacerbations demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of asthma exacerbations  (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160906085652.htm).

This study adds to the accumulating evidence of a role of vitamin D in allergy related disorders, and in the context of high rates of vitamin D deficiency in our population, careful studies examining the role or otherwise of supplementation to reduce the burden of disease.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:50pm
Professor Katie Allen is the Theme Director of Population Health and Group Leader of Gastro and Food Allergy at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

We know that Vitamin D is an important immune regulator and these findings help provide evidence that early life Vitamin D deficiency contributes to an increase in allergic disorders such as asthma.

Vitamin D deficiency has been on the rise in developing countries because of increased in-door time and optimised sun avoidance measures. So this evidence could provide information that there is a dark side to the highly successful anti skin cancer messaging.  Of course  we don’t want increasing rates of skin cancer and avoiding burning is paramount. However, for public health experts it raises the question of whether there should be increased Vitamin D exposure through the diet. Australia is one of the few developed countries that does not fortify its food supply with Vitamin D and therefore it may not be a coincidence that we have the highest rates of allergic disease including food allergies in the developed world.

We believe that Vitamin D supplementation trials in infancy are essential to answer this important public health question.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:47pm