JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Vitamin C for asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction

Stephen J Milan, Anna Hart, Mark Wilkinson
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013 October 23, (10): CD010391
24154977

BACKGROUND: Dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin C, in the epithelial lining and lining fluids of the lung may be beneficial in the reduction of oxidative damage (Arab 2002). They may therefore be of benefit in reducing symptoms of inflammatory airway conditions such as asthma, and may also be beneficial in reducing exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is a well-recognised feature of asthma and is considered a marker of airways inflammation. However, the association between dietary antioxidants and asthma severity or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is not fully understood.

OBJECTIVES: To examine the effects of vitamin C supplementation on exacerbations and health-related quality of life (HRQL) in adults and children with asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction compared to placebo or no vitamin C.

SEARCH METHODS: We identified trials from the Cochrane Airways Group's Specialised Register (CAGR). The Register contains trial reports identified through systematic searches of a number of bibliographic databases, and handsearching of journals and meeting abstracts. We also searched trial registry websites. The searches were conducted in December 2012.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs). We included both adults and children with a diagnosis of asthma. In separate analyses we considered trials with a diagnosis of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (or exercise-induced asthma). We included trials comparing vitamin C supplementation with placebo, or vitamin C supplementation with no supplementation. We included trials where the asthma management of both treatment and control groups provided similar background therapy. The primary focus of the review is on daily vitamin C supplementation to prevent exacerbations and improve HRQL. The short-term use of vitamin C at the time of exacerbations or for cold symptoms in people with asthma are outside the scope of this review.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently screened the titles and abstracts of potential studies, and subsequently screened full text study reports for inclusion. We used standard methods expected by The Cochrane Collaboration.

MAIN RESULTS: A total of 11 trials with 419 participants met our inclusion criteria. In 10 studies the participants were adults and only one was in children. Reporting of study design was inadequate to determine risk of bias for most of the studies and poor availability of data for our key outcomes may indicate some selective outcome reporting. Four studies were parallel-group and the remainder were cross-over studies. Eight studies included people with asthma and three studies included 40 participants with exercise-induced asthma. Five studies reported results using single-dose regimes prior to bronchial challenges or exercise tests. There was marked heterogeneity in vitamin C dosage regimes used in the selected studies, compounding the difficulties in carrying out meaningful analyses.One study on 201 adults with asthma reported no significant difference in our primary outcome, health-related quality of life (HRQL), and overall the quality of this evidence was low. There were no data available to evaluate the effects of vitamin C supplementation on our other primary outcome, exacerbations in adults. One small study reported data on asthma exacerbations in children and there were no exacerbations in either the vitamin C or placebo groups (very low quality evidence). In another study conducted in 41 adults, exacerbations were not defined according to our criteria and the data were not available in a format suitable for evaluation by our methods. Lung function and symptoms data were contributed by single studies. We rated the quality of this evidence as moderate, but further research is required to assess any clinical implications that may be related to the changes in these parameters. In each of these outcomes there was no significant difference between vitamin C and placebo. No adverse events at all were reported; again this is very low quality evidence.Studies in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction suggested some improvement in lung function measures with vitamin C supplementation, but theses studies were few and very small, with limited data and we judged the quality of the evidence to be low.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Currently, evidence is not available to provide a robust assessment on the use of vitamin C in the management of asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Further research is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimates of effect and is likely to change the estimates. There is no indication currently that vitamin C can be recommended as a therapeutic agent in asthma. There was some indication that vitamin C was helpful in exercise-induced breathlessness in terms of lung function and symptoms; however, as these findings were provided only by small studies they are inconclusive. Most published studies to date are too small and inconsistent to provide guidance. Well-designed trials with good quality clinical endpoints, such as exacerbation rates and health-related quality of life scores, are required.

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