The prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency has increased markedly in recent decades to current epidemic levels (Hyppönen E, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:860-868). In parallel, there has been an increase in the incidence of a range of immune-mediated conditions ranging from cancer to autoimmune and respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma (Holick MF. N Engl J Med 2007;357:266-281; Finklea et al. Adv Nutr 2011;2:244-253). There is also an association with increased respiratory infections, which are the most common cause of asthma exacerbations (Finklea et al. Adv Nutr 2011;2:244-253). Together, this has resulted in considerable interest in the therapeutic potential of vitamin D to prevent and improve treatment of asthma and other respiratory diseases. To this end, data from clinical trials involving supplementation with active vitamin D, or more commonly a precursor, are starting to emerge. This review considers mechanisms by which vitamin D may act on the immune system to dampen inappropriate inflammatory responses in the airway while also promoting tolerance and antimicrobial defense mechanisms that collectively maintain respiratory health.
Keywords: asthma; glucocorticoids; immune regulation; vitamin D.