It’s a chilly day today in Guelph and the sun is shining – for what feels like the first time in weeks! This weather has definitely called to mind the importance of the “sunshine vitamin” in your overall health. We make vitamin D naturally from cholesterol when our skin is exposed to sunlight, but if you’re anywhere north of the tropics right now you’re most likely not getting enough sun exposure (from fall through spring) to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
(It’s almost as if we were DESIGNED to live on sun-soaked tropical islands, yes??)
You may know vitamin D as a bone-booster, essential to your calcium absorption. It’s also important for your immune function and is even a mood-booster for people who suffer from seasonal depression or winter blues. Yep, vitamin D is an absolute superstar nutrient and deserves a really bright spotlight when it comes to fertility. Think of vitamin D as a hormonal and reproductive regulator. Vitamin D deficiency is also one of the most common reversible causes of fatigue.
Long-term low vitamin D deficiency causes osteoporoses because vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from your foods and supplements.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies that I see in my patients, including men and women who have fertility challenges.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. Low levels are associated with infertility, PCOS, obesity, poor immune function and poor outcomes with IVF.
Why Vitamin D Deficiency is Under-Discussed, Under-Diagnosed and Under-Dosed
Deficiency of vitamin D is under-diagnosed because there are no obvious symptoms, and most physicians and fertility clinics don't recognize and discuss its importance with you and refer you for the test. Not only is vitamin D deficiency widely under-diagnosed, it's also commonly under-dosed. Most health authorities recommend a daily dose of 1000 IU vitamin D daily for everyone from infants to elders. This isn't individualized enough. In my experience, most adults would benefit on many levels from a dose of 1000 IU-4000 IU daily depending on their needs, sun exposure, and metabolism. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so theoretically could build up in your system to toxic levels if you take very high doses over time. Current research shows that doses of 5000 IU taken daily for several months do not result in toxic levels of vitamin D. Always talk to your health care practitioner when deciding about supplement doses. (Note that your Prenatal or general multivitamin will likely provide 1000 IU vitamin D in your full daily dose).
The best way to find out whether you're low in vitamin D and how much you need to supplement with is to get tested. That's because vitamin D deficiency doesn't have specific symptoms you can count on to know if you're getting enough - until it's years too late i.e. osteoporosis has set in. Tests are inexpensive (they're $40-50 through Ontario labs) and can be ordered by your naturopathic doctor or family physician. It will certainly shed some light on whether you're getting enough of the sunshine vitamin for your fertility and overall health.
Hope this sheds some (warm, bright, sun-) light on the sunshine vitamin and your health!