D for Determined; Vitamin D and Asthma

When I began to progress from short distance running and triathlon events to endurance race distances, I started paying more attention to nutrition, both for the sake of athletic performance as well as overall health. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this may also have a positive impact on controlling my asthma.  You may recall in an earlier post that when I decided to train for my first triathlon, I called my asthma doctor and told him what my intentions were and asked if there was a way to better control my symptoms.  At the time, I was still using my rescue inhaler several times a day.  I was disappointed to hear him say, “no.”  That was it.  Just….no.

Ugh.

So I continued training and using my meds. Ha! I simply went as far as I could, and when I reached what I knew was my limit, I’d stop.  It required more rescue inhaler however, and three months later I received a call from the doctor’s office.  They were concerned about the number of inhalers I was going through. I referenced the call three months earlier, and I made an appointment to see the nurse practitioner.  I was prepared with a big speech about how I didn’t want to have to stop training; that ultimately what I was doing now would help my asthma in the long run if I could just figure out how to do it and not trigger my symptoms; that I didn’t want this disease to control me or force me to stop doing healthy things.  I didn’t have to give the speech.  She proposed a possible solution; Advair.  And it worked!  At least, better than anything else I had used at the time.  Later, I would find that it still wasn’t a complete answer and that underlying any prescription medication regimen, giving our bodies the nutrition they need at the cellular level should come first. But I didn’t know that yet, and at this point, I needed to just be able to exercise. After about a week, I was able to run (okay, jog) without needing my rescue inhaler; for the first time in my life! A part of me was really annoyed that my doctor in that same office had told me just three months before that there was nothing more we could do, and here is this NP who hands me a solution that would allow me to continue.  But I was so elated that I let it be. It had unfortunately become par for the course for me.  I know this hasn’t been every asthmatic’s experience; I’m so glad. I often think that my asthma was so bad that doctors simply ran out of answers.  And yet, one was sitting right under my nose and I didn’t know it.  Apparently they didn’t either.

As I trained and looked into nutrition, a friend referred me to some specific products that were created ‘by athletes, for athletes.’  I went to their website and looked around.  Having no official education for nutrition, I was simply doing what most people do; research on the web, ask friends and doctors. I noted on this website however, that I could have a phone consultation with one of the developers and I decided to give it a try.  I wanted to find out what I really need at a basic nutritional level but I also wanted to ask what, if anything, they knew about asthma and how I could combine these two goals; endurance racing and controlling my asthma.  Until then, they were two different concepts; take my preventative meds and hope they hold out, take my rescue inhaler when needed, exercise when I can.  But I would still have episodes caused either by a cold or environmental factors, and that would take me out of the training game for a while.  I wanted to merge the two if possible; training and controlling asthma.  So I asked Tim if that was possible.  He didn’t skip a beat; he absolutely thought it was.  He suggested that I first get my vitamin D and other blood levels tested.  I had done so through regular physical examinations and my numbers always showed as “low” so I took over-the-counter supplements.  I now understand that many of those contain mostly fillers, which is why they weren’t effective in bringing up my levels.  As part of their product line, these athletes/doctors included an assessment package so I ordered it and had my levels tested.

I learned more on that phone call with Tim than any other conversation I had had previously about basic nutritional needs and how it not only impacted overall health and athletic performance, but how it could also help my asthma by building up my system at the cellular level so that my body’s natural defenses would prevent symptoms long before they manifest. It’s more than short-term relief or long-term control of symptoms.  It’s preventative. I started to look at asthma control in a different way.

I mentioned Vitamin D.  I have had two doctors independent of each other recommend 10,000 IU, and then my own doctor agreed when I asked him what he thought about that.  That’s important to know.  Before I take any new nutritional supplement, I ask a doctor.  It’s like food allergies; one person may be able to eat spinach, which is really good for you.  Another, like my mom, might be allergic to it.  Know your body.  The recommended dosage may be different for me than for someone else.  I learned recently that too much Vitamin D can be harmful for those who have a history of developing kidney stones. Know your body.  When I am in the sun for hours at a time, I reduce my intake to about 6000. During dreary winter months when sunshine is limited here in the Pacific Northwest, I take in 10,000.  (I use a sublingual spray; fast and easy…..I’ll get to that).

So, these people who created nutritional products “by athletes, for athletes;” they caught my attention.  I have had many conversations with their science advisor, Dr. Rick Cohen over the last couple of years.  (I’ll provide the website information at the end of this post — because I can hear your question!).  I learn from him, then cross-reference with my regular general practice doctor, who also treats me for the asthma. Every time so far, he has agreed that what I am proposing is a good idea. He just doesn’t initially discuss it as a treatment for asthma; but he agrees when I bring it up.  I recently started to see a naturopathic doctor for other reasons. At my first appointment, he asked me what supplements I am taking and how much.  I received an A+ for the Vitamin D, Omega 3 and antioxidant intake.  He recommended the addition of Vitamin C at higher levels (again…for me…this higher dosage recommendation isn’t for everyone). But remarkably, he echoed the SAME things that Dr. Cohen and his associates were recommending, which in turn, my doctor agreed was a good idea. That’s more than good enough for me. Getting these nutrients has made a phenomenal impact alone.  Coupled with a healthy, clean diet (yes, I cheat sometimes), has made all the difference in the world.

But enough of my jibber-jabber. Here is what Dr. Cohen has to say specifically about Vitamin D and its impact on asthma.

“Asthma control isn’t always about having your meds on standby and taking them the moment you feel the telltale signs of an impending attack. It’s about having your body’s defenses ready to help fight off an attack on its own, with or without meds.

And one of the most important parts of that defense system is vitamin D.

One new study of 1,024 children with mild to moderate asthma finds that kids who don’t have the right levels of D have a harder time getting the disease under control, even after taking their asthma meds. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120713080022.htm

By one critical measure, the D-deficient kids had less than half of the lung improvements seen in kids with normal levels of D after taking their meds.

The difference was so dramatic that researchers say doctors should test asthmatic kids for vitamin D and continue to monitor their levels — and if those levels ever fall, the kids should be given supplements.

You don’t often hear mainstream doctors and researchers recommending nutritional supplements, so you know this one’s a big deal — and not just in children.

In kids and adults alike, vitamin D plays a key role in overall lung function. Proper D levels may even help keep attacks at bay and lessen their severity when they do strike.

One review of nearly 60 years of research found that low vitamin D levels led to problems with lung function, increased airway reactivity and worse overall asthma control among asthmatics.

In other words, if you want to breathe easier, make sure you get your D — and if you suffer from asthma, be sure to combine increased D levels with other natural treatments such as B vitamins, dietary changes, and homeopathic remedies.

You might never reach the point where you’d feel comfortable leaving your rescue inhaler at home. But if you take the natural approach, you might not need to be rescued nearly as often.”

Rick Cohen, M.D.
Know your body. Find your edge.
www.core4nutrition.com

For me, that last statement says it all.  It’s what I have been saying throughout this blog; that with this new focus on nutrition at the cellular level, not only do I not have to be rescued very often, but I can train and race for hours….. 17 hours and 23 seconds, even…… and not have to be rescued once.  If that is possible for someone like me, whose asthma has been severe my entire life; to the point that most doctors have given up and had no solutions, I have hope that this can work for others.  It just makes sense.

There are plenty of good products out there.  So much so, that it’s overwhelming when it comes to making a decision. What a great problem to have.  I get most of my supplements through the website noted above; www.core4nutrition.com.  I like it because I can get everything I need (except that I get my Vitamin C elsewhere). They have individual products in addition to comprehensive packages (I use their Core 4), designed to give me Vitamin D, Omegas, antioxidants, etc., and then I adjust it every now and then as necessary; I’ll swap out something that I have enough of with an extra Vitamin D, for example. That’s the sub-lingual spray I use. I love it. And I have to say that for the first time, I am taking an Omega 3 supplement that doesn’t have me burping up fish taste for hours! It’s liquid and tastes like peaches. Not kidding! Side note: I accidentally forgot an Omega 3 liqui-gel capsule in my jeans pocket once. A few hours later, I noticed a very strong, nasty fish smell.  It broke in my pocket!!  Never was able to get that smell out. Can’t bring myself to throw them away but they stink! Perhaps I’ll keep them for fishing.

Vitamin D is just one piece of the puzzle; stay tuned for more. That’s all for this post.  It’s Friday and there is a rafting trip calling my name!

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