Vitamin A: A Friend of Your Lungs
If you are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you know how hard it can be to breathe. Your lungs may have suffered damage and inflammation from cigarette smoke or other irritants. You may be looking for natural ways to heal your lungs and improve your breathing. One nutrient that may help you do that is vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that has many benefits for your body. Vitamin A helps your immune system, vision, reproduction, and cell communication. It also helps your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work well.
Why Vitamin A Matters for Your Lungs
Vitamin A is essential for your lung health. Your lungs need vitamin A to grow new cells and tissues, especially when you are developing in the womb and as a child. Vitamin A also helps your lungs fight off infections and inflammation by controlling the immune system and the production of mucus.
However, many things can lower your vitamin A levels, such as cigarette smoking, the main cause of COPD. Cigarette smoke contains a harmful substance called benzopyrene, which blocks the absorption of vitamin A in your body. This can lead to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which can harm your lung function and increase your risk of respiratory diseases.
How can you tell if you have VAD? Some of the signs and symptoms include:
- Night blindness
- Dry eyes
- Dry skin
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Poor wound healing
- Growth retardation in children
A moderate VAD can cause changes in the lining of your lungs, such as loss of hair-like structures called cilia, an increase of mucus-producing cells called goblet cells, and a change of cell type called squamous metaplasia. These changes make it harder for your lungs to work normally and protect you from infections. A severe VAD can also affect the structure and composition of the tissue that supports your lungs, called the extracellular matrix. This can result in the thickening of the membrane that surrounds the air sacs in your lungs, called the alveolar basement membrane, and abnormal deposition of a protein called collagen I. These changes reduce the ability of your lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?
The amount of vitamin A you need depends on your age, sex, and health status. For adults, the recommended amount is 900 micrograms (mcg) for men and 700 mcg for women. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more vitamin A to support their babies’ growth and development. However, too much vitamin A can be toxic and cause liver damage, birth defects, and other problems. The maximum amount you can take without risking harm is 3000 mcg for adults.
You can get vitamin A from animal sources, such as liver, eggs, cheese, and butter. These foods contain ready-made vitamin A, which is easy for your body to use. You can also get vitamin A from plant sources, such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and kale. These foods contain substances called provitamin A carotenoids, which need to be changed into active vitamin A in your body. The rate of this change depends on several factors, such as your genes, dietary fat intake, and other nutrients.
Can Vitamin A Supplements Help With COPD?
There is some evidence that taking vitamin A supplements may help heal your lung tissue if you have COPD. Some studies have found that vitamin A supplementation may improve lung function or reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups in people with low vitamin A levels. For example, a study published in Nutrients found that VAD mice had reduced air sac surface area and increased collagen deposition in their lungs compared to normal mice. However, when VAD mice were given retinoic acid (RA), a form of vitamin A, their lung structure and function was restored.
However, other studies have found no benefit or even harmful effects of vitamin A supplementation in people with normal or high vitamin A levels. Therefore, more research is needed to find out the best dose and duration of vitamin A supplementation for people with COPD.
The best way to make sure you get enough vitamin A is to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from different food groups. If you have COPD, you may also benefit from following a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs and helps you breathe easier. You can talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in COPD to create a personalized diet plan for you. You can also ask your doctor before taking any supplements or making any changes to your diet.
Vitamin A is an important nutrient for your overall health and especially for your lungs.