Stay out of the hospital with the sunshine vitamin

You're out enjoying the cool fall weather when, without warning, it feels like an elephant has landed on your chest.

You can't speak... or breathe... and you're pale and sweaty.

It's a familiar scene, but scary all the same: You're having an asthma attack.

And if you don't find your rescue inhaler, you'll be headed to the ER.

But getting help from an inhaler DURING an attack isn't your only option, because new research shows that you can PREVENT a sudden asthma attack from ever occurring.

And according to a recent review of studies, all you've got to do is take a daily dose of vitamin D.

We already know that there's a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and higher risk of an asthma attack, but researchers wanted to find out if the opposite was true -- that is, if supplementing with D could LOWER your risk.

Researchers from the Cochrane Review went over the data from more than 1,100 children and adults from around the world. Most of them had mild to moderate asthma and took vitamin D supplements for a period of four to 12 months.

After supplementing with vitamin D in addition to taking their regular asthma medications, only 3 percent needed to visit the ER or be hospitalized for an acute attack, compared to 6 percent of the group that didn't take any vitamin D.

So for the 300 million asthmatics in the world right now -- and the nearly two million Americans who end up in the ER every year -- this is good news.

The researchers say they don't know exactly why it works; but if you've been reading my eTips for a while now, you know that asthma attacks are, like allergies, an immune reaction. And vitamin D is one of the best boosters of your immune system out there.

Asthmatics in particular tend to have an overabundance of an immune protein called interleukin-17A, or IL-17A -- and while it's essential for your immune system to function normally, having too much of it can cause problems.

But guess what can help bring those levels into the normal range? Vitamin D.

Now, the exact amount of vitamin D needed varies by person and by season; but I've found that just about everyone needs at least 2,000 IU per day. Many folks could stand to take more.

Your doc (ideally, one who practices integrative medicine) can help you figure out exactly how much vitamin D you need.

In the study, the "sunshine vitamin" didn't seem to have any effect on the day-to-day symptoms of asthma -- but it did reduce the severity of an attack when it happened.

Of course, the best thing to do is to get at and treat the root cause of the asthma rather than just dealing with your symptoms. I've found that asthma is often actually caused by an infection -- specifically, of a fungus.

Treat the infection, and you could see the signs of your asthma disappear.