Do you take calcium supplements and have wondered why these contain vitamin D?
This is because it is the good old vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” which actually makes your body absorb and utilize calcium, making your bones strong, minimizing risks for osteoporosis and other bone problems. And that’s just the beginning of what vitamin D does for us women.
But we find that many women—even the most well-informed health junkies—often don't know they’re lacking this essential nutrient. Vitamin D deficiency is at epidemic levels with 40 % population globally deficient and we consider this the root of many women’s struggles with fertility and health.
Read on to discover how vitamin D supports women’s health and well-being.
Vitamin D is an underappreciated nutrient that's actually a hormone. It is naturally produced in your body with sun exposure or can be consumed through certain foods in your diet like eggs and dairy.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that includes vitamins D1, D2, and D3 out of which vitamin D3 is the form recommended for supplementation, and it’s the form that’s made by your body from your skin's exposure to the sun.
This is the best way to get your daily recommended daily dose of Vitamin D which is pegged at 600 iu or units by the IOU.
It takes about 30-40 minutes for your body to make calcitriol and a hindrance can stop the process immediately causing a deficiency.
Vitamin D has multiple roles in your body for maintaining the following systems like:
Bones and teeth- Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorous in your body and inadequate D levels in the blood may lead to severe bone and back pain. Due to weak bones, you become more susceptible to stress fractures, especially, in your legs, pelvis, and hips.
Vitamin D also maintains the muscles in your body so that a deficiency can cause your children to develop rickets and you become prone to more muscle pain and fatigue.
Immune system- Immune cells have vitamin D receptors on them and a deficiency greatly increases chances of autoimmune disorders and increased susceptibility to infections like colds and flu.
Brain and nervous system- A deficiency affects mood and has been implicated in depression and even bi-polar disorders. Lung function, cardiovascular system and insulin levels are all also regulated by vitamin D. The vitamin also influences the expression of genes responsible for cancer development.
Vitamin D stage manages fertility, reproduction, and childbirth in women and deserves to be called the fertility vitamin.
Studies suggest that as many as 93% women dealing with infertility issues are vitamin D3 deficient.
It’s also been estimated that most women with PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome have a deficiency.
A low concentration of vitamin D can cause estrogen dominance in your body. This hormonal imbalance contributes to a whole range of reproductive health problems for women affecting fertility like regular ovulation.
Vitamin D also supports fertility as it helps the body regulate blood sugar levels and unbalanced blood sugar contributes to ovulation.
The vitamin also regulates your vaginal microbiome and this is crucial for getting pregnant and carrying a pregnancy to term.
It's also recently been shown that women are more prone to preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy condition in which mother’s blood pressure shoots up impairing the foetus’s health if they hadn't received sufficient vitamin D in the first year of their own lives. So, not getting enough vitamin D has consequences later in life that are dreadful and expensive.
Deficient women also have to get more C-sections as their muscles are too weak for normal childbirth.
Your male partner also needs the vitamin to maintain a high sperm count and sperm motility.
If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, get your vitamin D levels checked. Lab tests check your 25-Hydroxy vitamin D levels.
Also make sure your vitamin D level stays within an optimal range because your baby needs it as a foetus as well.
Do make sure your children have adequate vitamin D levels too especially is they are less than one –year old.
It's now becoming increasingly clear that there are midlife and late-life consequences of infancy vitamin D deficiency.
Infants need adequate vitamin D status in infants to grow a healthy immune system. If they don't get optimum levels of vitamin D, they are more susceptible to get autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
As a woman, infertility or PCOS should prompt you to get tested for vitamin D immediately.
Other signs of D deficiency include:
A diabetes diagnosis
Any gut issues like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s disease
Weak immune system
Weak muscles and bones
Excessive sweating, especially from top of the head
In 30% of people, muscle weakness is one of the earliest signs of vitamin D deficiency.
Of all vitamin D deficiency symptoms, there is one that stands out as because it’s extremely weird- sweating from the top of the head.
If your child has sweaty hands, it could be a sign of the most prominent and dangerous form of vitamin D deficiency in children – Rickets. Symptoms of rickets include head sweating, hair tenderness, and legs not being able to support the body.
These risk factors predispose you to a vitamin D deficiency:
Darker skin tone
Lack of vitamin D-rich foods in your diet like fish and milk or fortified foods due to being vegetarian
Living at lower altitudes
Living away from the equator where there is less sunlight year-round.
Staying indoors due to a desk job most of the time
Using sunscreen always when going out
Wearing long tunics due to social or religious reasons
Living in areas of high air pollution
UVB rays of the sun are required by your skin to make vitamin D. Sunscreens absorb UVB and long garments prevent these rays reaching your skin. Similarly, staying indoors stops you from getting sun exposure at all.
Air pollution also absorbs UVB rays, making them less available for the skin to use for vitamin D synthesis.
Living at higher latitudes also stops the UVB rays from reaching your skin as sunshine is shrouded by fog, clouds, mist, and snow. And at lower altitudes, the intensity of sunlight dwindles as sun rays travel longer distances. This is why people living in the mountains or on hilltops have higher levels of vitamin D.
Darker skin can cause less vitamin D production as Melanin the skin pigment is an efficient natural sunblock.
This is the reason why people with a darker skin tone need three to five times more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as a light-skinned person.
Older people have low levels of provitamin D3 to convert into vitamin D3 or calcitriol. This reduces usable vitamin D levels by as much as a walloping 50% in the elderly. This means they need three to four times more vitamin D than the younger.
Experts say anything between 2000- 4000 iu or units of Vitamin D are required to maintain optimum vitamin D levels in the body in the aged.
The dietary inadequacy of vitamin D is also often seen in vegans, vegetarians, and the lactose intolerant as most vitamin-D rich foods are of animal origin like oil-rich fish, beef liver, and eggs.
And as most vitamin D fortified foods are dairy products, if you have a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant, or are vegan, you are likely to be vitamin D deficient.
Now that you know how important it is to have sufficient vitamin D levels to stay healthy as a woman, it’s also vital that you know how to treat a deficiency.
You can do this by increasing your sunlight exposure, especially before 10 AM, eating more vitamin D-rich foods or taking supplements.
Sometimes, testing may be required. Your doctor can then put you on a higher dose of vitamin D according to your test results.
Before we end, here’s another piece of advice- Never overdose on vitamin D (over 4000 units) as this fat-soluble nutrient is absorbed by the fat and is not removed by your body and can cause toxicity.