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Keepin’ It Sunny: The Benefits of Vitamin D for Your Health

With shorter days ahead and the beginning of fall just around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk to you about the importance of vitamin D in maintaining good health.

Often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," Vitamin D plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. Beyond its well-known role in bone health, emerging research suggests that Vitamin D can also have a profound impact on our periods and menstrual health.

In this article, we will explore the health benefits of Vitamin D, its specific relevance to the menstrual cycle, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, testing vitamin D levels, and ways to boost vitamin D in the body.

Understanding Vitamin D

Firstly, let’s break down some basic science. Vitamin D is a lipophilic aka fat-soluble “vitamin” that has actions similar to the way hormones function in our body by loving up on our fatty cell membranes.

Our body has the ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun but there are many factors that affect this process. We can also ingest vitamin D in the forms of vitamins D3 (cholecalciferol) and D2 (ergocalciferol) via food sources such as fish, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified foods or through supplementation. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble molecule, it has to be absorbed with the aid of your small intestine and various “transport” proteins that act like a valet service for fats in your body.

Vitamin D exists and gets broken down into many forms but, most importantly, the active form (vitamin D3) plays a huge role in the balance of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus in the body which is essential for strong bones. But because of its unique actions, vitamin D additionally has many downstream effects on our immune system, mood and mental health, heart health, menstrual cycles and possible cancer prevention.

Now, let's delve into the specific relationship between Vitamin D and period health.

Vitamin D and Your Period:

When talking about the benefits of Vitamin D, I also want to highlight the distinct connection between vitamin D and our cycle.

Low levels of vitamin D (around 20-30 ng/mL) have been associated with longer menstrual cycles. Studies have found supplementing with vitamin D can be helpful at reducing severity of period cramps, improving the quality of embryos, and reducing the size of uterine fibroids if present.

For PCOS, studies show that supplementing vitamin D can impact glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Additionally, vitamin D can also help decrease the severity of symptoms associated with hyperandrogenism such as acne, androgenic alopecia (hair loss around the front of the scalp), irregular periods & infertility, and difficulty losing weight.

Vitamin D is also a great consideration for those who suffer from mood swings, migraines, irritability, and breast tenderness due to PMS (or PMDD).

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:

Vitamin D deficiency is actually super common - almost 42% of adults in the US are deficient. Some symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain + weakness, hair loss, frequently getting sick, low mood/mood changes, joint pain (especially in your back), and bone loss.

Having low vitamin D status is especially prevalent in those with naturally darker/more melanated skin, anyone who has absorption issues (ie Celiac Disease), living somewhere with little sunshine, and being elderly.

If you’re curious about your vitamin D status, keep reading to see how I test for my patients.

Testing Vitamin D Levels:

The most common form of vitamin D testing and a test I utilize for many of my patients is the measurement of 25-hydroxy vitamin D, often abbreviated 25(OH)D. This test assesses the level of circulating vitamin D in the bloodstream, which includes both vitamin D2 and D3. It is considered the most accurate indicator of a person’s overall vitamin D status and helps with checking for deficiencies & to monitor levels. Optimally, I like to see 25OHD values around 80-100 nmol/L for most adults.

How to Boost Vitamin D Levels

Now that we’ve covered the health benefits and how I check vitamin D for my patients, let’s get into ways to boost your vitamin D!

  1. Sun Exposure: The most natural way to increase your Vitamin D levels is by spending time in the sun. Aim for about 15-20 minutes of sun exposure on your skin each day, taking care not to overexpose yourself to harmful UV rays (however, time spent in sun to get adequate amounts of exposure relies heavily on skin tone).

  2. Dietary Sources: Include Vitamin D-rich foods in your diet, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines), organ meat, cod liver oil, fortified dairy products, fortified cereals, eggs, and mushrooms.

  3. Supplements: If you have difficulty getting enough Vitamin D through sunlight and diet, consider supplements. I usually reach for a vitamin D3 + vitamin K2 supplement. This is because vitamin D3 helps the body work extra hard at absorbing calcium from the digestive tract. However, without proper guidance, all the extra calcium that wasn’t needed by the bones can potentially start to deposit in our blood vessels and kidneys leading to arterial calcification and kidney stones. Vitamin K2 activates proteins that help direct the calcium into bones & teeth while preventing accumulation elsewhere. Vitamin K2 does interact with certain medications so always consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your regimen.

The Bottom Line:

Vitamin D is a multifaceted nutrient with a wide range of health benefits, including its positive impact on menstrual health. Maintaining adequate Vitamin D levels is crucial for regulating menstrual cycles, reducing pain and discomfort, and promoting overall reproductive health. As with any dietary or health-related changes, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant adjustments to your Vitamin D intake. In doing so, you can harness the power of this sunshine vitamin to support your overall well-being and menstrual health.

If you are interested in receiving naturopathic care for your concerns, I offer a complementary 15-minute Discovery Call. To work together, click the button below!

Disclaimer: As always, none of the information in this blog is medical advice. This is purely for educational purposes that everyone should be able to access and is not a substitution for proper medical diagnosis+treatment.

Additional References:

Kulie T, Groff A, Redmer J, Hounshell J, Schrager S. Vitamin D: An Evidence-Based Review. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2009;22(6):698-706. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2009.06.090037.

Vitamin D Fact Sheet – National Institutes of Health

Holick MF. Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004;80(6). doi:10.1093/ajcn/80.6.1678s.

Ecemis GC, Atmaca A. Quality of life is impaired not only in vitamin D deficient but also in vitamin D-insufficient pre-menopausal women. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. 2013 Sep;36(8):622-7. doi: 10.3275/8898.

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