Vitamin D Helps Kids' Breathing, Study Says: Are Supplements Smart?

girl, asthma, breathing, istockphoto, 4x3
girl, asthma, breathing, istockphoto, 4x3

(CBS) Strong bones aren't the only benefit of vitamin D. A new study suggests that the "sunshine vitamin" helps prevent breathing problems in infants and young children.

"Our data suggest that the association between vitamin D and wheezing, which can be a symptom of many respiratory diseases and not just asthma, is largely due to respiratory infections," study leader Dr. Carlos Camargo, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a written statement.

Respiratory infections are a big problem for kids. Bronchiolitis, a viral infection of the lungs, is the leading cause of hospitalizations in U.S. infants, according to Carmargo.

The researchers followed about 1,000 children born in New Zealand, checking vitamin D levels in their umbilical cord blood and following up with questionnaires about infections and breathing difficulties for five years. They found that the lower the level of D, the greater the risk of breathing troubles like wheezing.

Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight, which in many areas is in short supply when the seasons change.

Are vitamin D supplements a good idea for kids at risk for asthma and other breathing problems? Possibly, Carmargo said, adding that he hopes to test that theory in a clinical trial that he hopes to conduct next year.

The study was published in the Jan. 2001 issue of Pediatrics.