Why Is Vitamin D Important
Healthy vitamin D levels are essential during pregnancy for both mom and baby. A deficiency during this important time of growth can increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Deficiency can also hinder the development of the baby and has been associated with low birth weight and developmental delays.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health and teeth formation, because of its role in regulating calcium metabolism and bone calcification. Low vitamin D levels will still result in poor bone health even with healthy calcium levels.
Vitamin D is also involved in muscle development, strength, and function.
Vitamin D plays a role in immune system health and balance. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of both overactive immunity and autoimmune disorders, as well as low immunity and increased infections.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with poor sleep quality in both children and adults.
Brain health is also dependent on adequate vitamin D levels, with deficiency in early life hindering brain development, and for adults a deficiency has been linked to impaired cognition.
Scientists are still exploring additional roles and benefits vitamin D plays in our health. For example, vitamin D and its role in the increased survival rate after a cancer diagnosis.
How Does Vitamin D Affect Womens Health
Sometimes a little bit of sunshine is the best medicine. A walk in the park or a bike ride probably puts you in a good mood, and a moderate amount of sun is also good for your physical health. While youre outside soaking up rays, your body is busy making vitamin D. Thats good news, because this hormone thats boosted by exposure to sunlight plays an important role in womens health.
We have known for a long time about vitamin Ds critical role in bone health. More recently, though, vitamin D has been linked to having a potential role in a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Erin Michos, M.D., associate director of preventive cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, explains why vitamin D is important for womens health and how to make sure youre getting enough.
Why Is Vitamin D So Important
Vitamin D is one of many vitamins our bodies need to stay healthy. This vitamin has many functions, including:
- Keeping bones strong: Having healthy bones protects you from various conditions, including rickets. Rickets is a disorder that causes children to have bones that are weak and soft. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D in the body. You need vitamin D so that calcium and phosphorus can be used to build bones. In adults, having soft bones is a condition called osteomalacia.
- Absorbing calcium: Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps build bones and keep bones strong and healthy. Weak bones can lead to osteoporosis, the loss of bone density, which can lead to fractures. Vitamin D, once either taken orally or from sunshine exposure is then converted to an active form of the vitamin. It is that active form that promotes optimal absorption of calcium from your diet.
- Working with parathyroid glands: The parathyroid glands work minute to minute to balance the calcium in the blood by communicating with the kidneys, gut and skeleton. When there is sufficient calcium in the diet and sufficient active Vitamin D, dietary calcium is absorbed and put to good use throughout the body. If calcium intake is insufficient, or vitamin D is low, the parathyroid glands will borrow calcium from the skeleton in order to keep the blood calcium in the normal range.
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Are Vitamin D Levels The Same For Men And Women
Vitamin D plays many important roles in human health well beyond the regulation of calcium and phosphorus for bone health. It has been shown to have effects on cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune health, and pregnancy health. It makes sense that the demand for vitamin D may differ between men and women, and that vitamin D status may be affected by gender.
What Women Really Need To Know About Vitamin D
Vitamin D has become Americas most-recommended vitamin but is it really as powerful as we think?
A womans mental and physical well-being requires tests, treatments, and preventions that men just don’t have to deal with. But this isn’t always discussed. From fibroids to diets to natal care, women’s health is extremely nuanced. With this in mind, Shondaland wanted to take a distinct look into the world of women’s health, all in the hopes of fostering well-rounded wellness.
Just a few weeks ago, my doctor ordered a full blood panel. I hadnt had bloodwork done in more than three years this one, she said, would screen for over 80 potential abnormalities, from high cholesterol, to STIs, to renal malfunction, to conditions Id never heard of and couldnt pronounce even if I tried. So a phlebotomist drew 15 vials of blood yes, 15! and sent them off to the lab. A week later, my doctor called. Only one result caused her concern:
Youre low on vitamin D. She prescribed a 50,000 IU supplement and told me to take it once a week.
But I didnt immediately rush over to the pharmacy to fill the prescription though 50,000 IUs is the standard prescription-strength Vitamin D supplement, it is also 25 to 50times more than standard over-the-counter D vitamins, which are usually 1000 to 2000 IUs. If I was going to take that much of anything, I wanted to know more about it.
So before popping the pills, I set out to do more research and speak to some experts. Heres what I found.
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Fact: Getting Out In The Sun Helps Your Body Produce Vitamin D
Its called the sunshine vitamin for a reason. When the suns ultraviolet B light hits you, it turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Vitamin D3 is transferred from your liver to your kidneys, where it becomes an active form of vitamin D thats usable in your body.
Most people get some of their vitamin D through sun exposure, according to the NIH, but factors like the season, time of day, cloud cover, skin pigment, and sunscreen affect how much vitamin D a person can synthesize via the sun. For example, the NIH notes that people with darker skin arent able to produce as much vitamin D through sunlight.
People would get sufficient vitamin D with daily sun exposure, but with large cities blocking light, an increase in indoor activities, clothing covering much of our bodies, or daily use of sunscreen, we dont get that natural source of vitamin D, says Dr. McTiernan. Many of us can benefit from supplementation.
Experts suggest that about 5 to 30 minutes of daily sun exposure, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., or at least twice a week, on the arms, face, legs, and hands without sunscreen usually leads to a sufficient amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms Treatments Causes And More
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Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin that has many important functions throughout your body .
Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D functions like a hormone. Many cells in your body have a receptor for it.
Your body makes it from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
Its also found in certain foods such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, though its very difficult to get enough from your diet alone.
The Endocrine Society recommends that most adults get 1,5002,000 IUs of vitamin D daily (
According to one review, 41.6% of adults in the United States are deficient. This number goes up to 69.2% in Hispanic adults and 82.1% in African American adults (
Here are some signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
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Myth: All Adult Women Need The Same Amount Of Vitamin D
In actuality, certain women may need more or less of the sunshine vitamin. Pregnant women in particular may benefit from a supplement.
A study published in October 2016 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that women who give birth in the winter and have a vitamin D deficiency in early pregnancy, or gain more weight than normal during pregnancy, may need higher doses of vitamin D than other pregnant women. If any of those characteristics apply to you, ask your doctor whether you need to increase vitamin D intake.
Furthermore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that severe maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is linked with congenital rickets and fractures, among other conditions, in the newborn, although this is rare. Also, the organization states that most experts agree 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D is safe for pregnant women.
Theres other evidence, too, that vitamin D is important for the health of the mother and baby. A review published in June 2020 in Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin D supplementation may be useful in preventing preeclampsia.
Food Sources Of Vitamin D
Foods that contain some vitamin D include:
- Foods fortified with vitamin Dmay be fortified with either vitamin D2 or D3
- Wild mushrooms and commercially grown mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light
Vitamin D2 which is found in mushrooms and some fortified foods, does not increase vitamin D levels as well as vitamin D3.
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What Is The Recommended Daily Amount Of Calcium And Vitamin D
Calcium should always be taken along with vitamin D, because the body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium.
Recommended calcium intake
Recommended vitamin D intake
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.
Advice For Adults And Children Over 4 Years Old
During the autumn and winter, you need to get vitamin D from your diet because the sun is not strong enough for the body to make vitamin D.
But since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
Between late March/early April to the end of September, most people can make all the vitamin D they need through sunlight on their skin and from a balanced diet.
You may choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
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Can Too Much Vitamin D Be Harmful
Getting too much vitamin D can be harmful. Signs of toxicity include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, and weight loss. Excess vitamin D can also damage the kidneys. Too much vitamin D also raises the level of calcium in your blood. High levels of blood calcium can cause confusion, disorientation, and problems with heart rhythm.
Most cases of vitamin D toxicity happen when someone overuses vitamin D supplements. Excessive sun exposure doesn’t cause vitamin D poisoning because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces.
What Protects From Fractures
For older patients at risk of vitamin D deficiency, supplements can have a major impact. They can prevent osteomalacia, a softening of the bone that makes fractures more likely.
A University of Auckland meta-study reported that vitamin D supplements had little effect on bone density.
We would not expect vitamin D supplements to have a large impact on bone density unless the deficiency was severe, he says. Then their impact could be significant.
Improving bone density is not the only way to prevent fractures especially in older patients. Vitamin D can also have huge benefits for muscle function, cognition and falling.
One study found no evidence that vitamin D supplements reduced mortality, or prevented falls or fractures. A different study found no evidence that vitamin D supplements reduced overall mortality. Drilling down into the type of supplement taken, however, vitamin D3 significantly reduced mortality while vitamin D2 slightly increased mortality.
Why Are Some People More Likely To Be Deficient In Vitamin D Than Others
People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D research has shown that darker skin synthesises Vitamin D from sunlight less efficiently. This is exacerbated in the UK as there is less sunlight than warmer countries.
Those with a BMI over 30 are more likely to have lower levels of Vitamin D. According to the NHS website, it’s thought that the vitamin could get ‘trapped’ in excess fat tissue, leaving less of it to circulate in the blood.
How Can I Help Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency
The goals of treating and preventing the lack of vitamin D of treatment and prevention are the sameto reach and keep an adequate level of vitamin D in the body. Your healthcare provider will let you know if you need to take or keep taking vitamin D supplements. If so, they will also let you know how much you should take. You might also want to consider:
Eating more foods that contain vitamin D: See the vitamin D food sources table included in this article. Keep in mind that foods alone usually don’t meet the daily recommended levels of vitamin D.
Getting some exposure to sunshinebut not too much: Exactly how much sun exposure is needed isnt clear. 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure two to three times a week to the face, arms, legs or back may be all that is needed to absorb a suitable amount of vitamin D. You might need more sun exposure if:
- You are older.
- You have a darker skin color.
- You live in northern climates.
The use of sunscreen, and standing behind a window, prevents vitamin D from being produced in the skin. However, you should remember that too much sunshine increases the risk of skin cancer and ages the skin. That is why taking an appropriately dosed D supplement is far safer than intentionally getting routine sun exposure.
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Why Has Vitamin D Been In The News Before
In October 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government would begin public messaging to advise that people supplement with the vitamin, and that he’s agreed to commission fresh research into the hormone’s potential benefits for your immunity.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the sunshine vitamin,’ as your body synthesises it when sunlight hits your skin, this hormone is understood to be vital for your energy levels and for the normal functioning of your immune system 30268-0/fulltext” rel=”nofollow”> hence headlines around a potential link between a lack of it and a heightened chance of contracting Covid-19).
Given the lack of rays in the UK for swathes of the year, current NHS advice recommends supplementation of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter, and all year round if you are from an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background.
What Special Instructions Should I Follow When Using This Medicine
- If you have been prescribed a low-sodium or low-sugar diet, carefully read the ingredients listed on the label. Some laxatives contain large amounts of sodium or sugar, which could cause unwanted side effects.
- Certain medicines might cause unwanted side effects when used in combination with laxatives. The use of laxatives containing magnesium might reduce the effects of some of these medicines. Please tell your doctor if you are taking any of the following before you start taking an over-the-counter laxative:
- Oral anticoagulants
- Sodium polysterene sulfonate
- Oral tetracyclines
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Do Infants Get Enough Vitamin D From Breast Milk
Breast milk alone does not provide infants with an adequate amount of vitamin D. Shortly after birth, most infants will need an additional source of vitamin D.
To avoid developing a vitamin D deficiency, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfed and partially breastfed infants be supplemented with 400 IU per day of vitamin D beginning in the first few days of life. Families who do not wish to provide a supplement directly to their infant should discuss with a healthcare provider the risks and benefits of maternal high dose supplementation options.
Is It Best To Get Your Vitamin D From The Sun Definitely Not
David J. Leffell, MD, Yale Medicine dermatologist and chief of Dermatologic Surgery
One of the biggest challenges weve faced in dermatology and in the world of skin cancer prevention has been a lot of misinformation about vitamin D metabolism.
There are claims that one needs to get a certain amount of sun exposure every day in order to produce enough vitamin D to be healthy. Its just not true. The majority of people can get their vitamin D from nutritional supplements and from vitamin D-fortified foods.
There are some people who have advocated for tanning to get vitamin D. But we know that UVB light causes skin cancer and that protecting yourself against it makes sense. As a doctor who treats patients who have melanomas, I want the general public to be advised that under no circumstances can use of a tanning bed or tanning in general be justified on the basis of vitamin D. Take a supplement instead.
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