Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is naturally synthesized in your skin after exposure to sunlight. During the colder months of winter, when outdoor time and sunlight are diminished, it’s easy to become vitamin D deficient without even knowing it. While eating vitamin D rich food like tuna, mackerel, salmon, egg yolks, dairy, and fortified foods are helpful, some may benefit from a supplement.
We consulted with Dr. Amy VanBlaricom, a Board Certified OBGYN with 25 years of experience in women’s health care, on the importance of vitamin D levels for optimum health.
Sun50: Why is vitamin D important?
Dr. VanBlaricom: Vitamin D is important for overall health and critical for bone health. Vitamin D is important to help your body process and utilize calcium which is obtained from your diet. It is needed not only for bone growth, but for bone remodeling as well. While vitamin D is critical for bone health, deficiencies in vitamin D can leave you at risk for other medical conditions.
Sun50: Why should we worry about vitamin D deficiency?
Dr. VanBlaricom: Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common. Sun exposure helps your body create vitamin D. Even those of us in sunny climates may be at risk for deficiency in vitamin D if you are as religious about sun protection as we all should be. The symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency are often subtle and many people do not even realize they are deficient. The most common concerns with vitamin D deficiency are:
- increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- muscle weakness/pain
- brittle bones/bone loss/bone pain
- depressed mood
- hair loss
- compromised immune system
- cancer (studies have shown an association between vitamin-D deficiency and cancer)
- auto immune diseases: type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults- low levels of vitamin-D is frequently found in patients with depression and Alzheimer's disease
Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D is very important in the female body due to increased risk of osteoporosis during menopause. In younger women of child-bearing age, it is an important nutrient for brain development.
Sun50: How do you avoid vitamin D deficiency?
Dr. VanBlaricom: If you live in a northern climate with short, dark winter days, or have decreased exposure to sunlight for other occupational or cultural reasons, have milk allergies or are a strict vegan, you are particularly at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Most people in these categories should probably be taking a vitamin D supplement. I recommend my patients check their vitamin D level with a blood test which can typically be arranged with your personal physician. Your level will help your physician determine how much you should be supplementing with vitamin D.
Also, if you are perimenopausal or menopausal when your bones start to demineralize over time, vitamin D supplementation will help your body better process and incorporate calcium to keep your bones strong. Checking a level and having a conversation with your physician about the type and dose of supplementation is an important piece of your health care maintenance.