Ask the expert - vitamins

  • Man holding pills - largeThere’s lots of advertising around for supplements that seem to help any health problems. Which vitamins or supplements can improve my asthma?

    Some people choose to take additional supplements and key foods to help improve their asthma, but there are actually very few things that have any real evidence to suggest they will do anything at all. If you do want to take supplements, it is important to still follow your asthma action plan and take your medications as advised by the doctor. If you want to try them, you should first discuss the option of adding supplements as part of your treatment with your doctor. 

    Let’s look into some of the recent claims made about supplements to help improve asthma symptoms.


    Lyprinol is a marine oil consisting of 6 main lipid groups and a unique grouping of rare omega 3 fatty acids found only in the New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel. It has been used for some time by people trying to relieve inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis. 

    Unfortunately, the studies that have been completed on the effect of Lyprinol in asthma have not shown a strong consistent effect. It may be that further studies will provide a stronger base of evidence, but at present it has not shown that it will improve your asthma. While some people have found that it does help reduce some symptoms, needing to add on Lyprinol on top of their regular inhaled medications for asthma can be very expensive. 

    Although it is difficult to conclude from the completed clinical trials whether it does much good, it can be concluded that Lyprinol probably does no harm. If you do choose to try Lyprinol, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist to check if Lyprinol could interact with the medications you are currently taking. For example, it is known to possibly increase the risk of bleeding with warfarin. 


    Selenium is a trace mineral, and it is thought that deficiency of selenium may play some role in the development of asthma. Crab, liver, fish, poultry, and wheat are generally good selenium sources. Some studies suggest that selenium supplementation may be a useful adjunct for people with chronic asthma. A review by The Cochrane Collaboration found some evidence from only one small trial that selenium supplementation might help reduce symptoms of chronic asthma symptoms, but more research is needed to be certain.

    As Selenium might slow blood clotting, taking selenium along with medications that also slow blood clotting e.g aspirin, clopidogrel, warfarin might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

    Vitamin D

    Vitamin D deficiency has been rediscovered as a public health problem worldwide. Many clinical diseases are associated with Vitamin D deficiency and it has been linked with asthma by some researchers. It’s still unclear whether these links are due to rising levels of Vitamin D deficiency, or if it plays a real role in the disease process. Improving Vitamin D status in those who are deficient holds promise in primary prevention of asthma, in decreasing exacerbations of symptoms, and in treating steroid resistance. However the role of Vitamin D in the treatment of asthma remains unclear.

    Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin”. This is because sunlight forms Vitamin D precursors in the skin, and the kidney converts these into its active form, then body fat acts like a kind of storage battery. In summer, only minutes of sunshine are required for adequate stores of Vitamin D. More daylight exposure is required in winter and in less sunny places. 

    Vitamin D does not naturally occur in foods that humans eat, except in oily fish and fish liver oil, egg yolk, and liver. Milk and its products, like butter, have Vitamin D added in some countries, but not in Australia, as we have traditionally obtained plenty of Vitamin D from sun exposure. However over zealous applications of the slip slop slap message and increasing amounts of time spent indoors, often with electronic gadgets, is believed to be the cause of the rise in Vitamin D deficient people. 

    Supplement hot tip

    Keep in mind that there isn’t as much regulation around ‘natural’ products like supplements as there is for medications. Some are made overseas where the manufacturing processes are not the same as in Australia, so be especially careful if you’re buying online. The safest thing to do is check the label – look for “Aust L” which means that product has been checked by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration for safety and quality. You may also see the mark “Aust R” to indicate it has been assessed for safety, quality and effectiveness. And keep your doctor informed as to what you are taking for your health – just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always safe.

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