Vitamin D for Menstrual Health
Despite the fact that it is one of the few nutrients the human body can manufacture (with a little help from the sun) more than 70% of American adults are estimated to be vitamin D deficient.
This is bad news, because vitamin D is an extraordinarily important nutrient, involved in over 200 known interactions within the human body.
Vitamin D's most famous function is acting as a conduit, or delivery mechanism, for calcium. Vitamin D takes calcium from the intestines and carries it to the bloodstream, where it can be absorbed by your bones and teeth. For this reason, vitamin D is extremely important for building a strong skeletal system and preventing osteoporosis.
In fact, it is so important that vitamin D deficiencies in utero and during the critical years of early puberty have been tied to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis decades in the future.
Bone health is not the only function of vitamin D, however. It also provides many benefits to women who suffer menstrual and reproductive problems such as cramps, PMS, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Relieving Menstrual Symptoms with Vitamin D
Vitamin D's role in bringing calcium to the bloodstream not only strengthens your bones, it also allows the calcium to be used in other ways by your body.
Calcium also plays an important role in muscle muscle health, and low or inadequate levels of calcium have been tied to increased risk of painful menstrual cramps.
Vitamin D also offers many other benefits to women's health.
Many women's health problems are caused by hormone imbalances, most commonly excessive levels of the hormone estrogen. Although scientists are not sure why, vitamin D deficiency has been linked in many studies to excessive estrogen. Excessive estrogen levels, also known as estrogen dominance, have been linked to increased risk of endometriosis, PCOS, breast cancer, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), heavy periods (menorrhagia), and many common symptoms of PMS, including fatigue, insomnia, and mood swings.
Vitamin D and PCOS
Vitamin D is especially important for women with PCOS.
In addition to helping maintain healthy hormone balance, vitamin D also plays an important role in preventing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and other health problems if left untreated, is nearly universal among women with PCOS. One recent study has found that adults with sufficient vitamin D had a 60% higher level of insulin sensitivity than those who were vitamin D deficient.
Increasing insulin sensitivity also helps control weight. More than half of women diagnosed with PCOS are overweight or obese, and their higher rates of insulin resistance also trap them in a vicious cycle that makes it harder to lose weight. Insulin resistance leads to weight gain, leads to increased insulin resistance, leads to more weight gain...
High levels of calcium have also been linked to improved weight control, and vitamin D can also help lose or control weight in this way.
- WHFoods: Vitamin D
- Preventing vitamin D deficiency — the new breakthrough in women’s health?
Learn about the benefits of vitamin D for women's health concerns and how to prevent vitamin D deficiency naturally.
Preventing Vitamin D Deficiency
The best way to ensure that you get enough vitamin D is to spend time in the sun. Glazed windows and sunscreen block the UVB rays necessary to manufacture vitamin D, and tanning beds generally are not good sources of vitamin D, because they are generally calibrated to favor UVA rays rather than UVB rays.
Remember to take proper precautions when spending time in the sun - too much sun can be as damaging as too little, and skin cancer rates are on the rise. Fortunately, even 15 minutes a day of sunlight on your face and hands is enough to benefit your vitamin D levels if you are light-skinned. Darker skinned women will need longer exposure to the sun (up to about 40 minutes for many African American women) because their higher levels of melanin slow down vitamin D production.
If you live in Northern latitudes, however, even spending time in the sun may not ensure that you get enough vitamin D. If you live in the northern United States, the sun's UVB rays literally might not be strong enough to ensure you an adequate supply of vitamin D from September to March!
Dietary Sources of Vitamin D
In this case, you will also need to increase your consumption of dietary vitamin D. The best sources include:
- Grassfed dairy products. Dairy products produced by cows fed exclusively grass are higher in vitamin D than dairy products from conventionally raised cows. For more about the many benefits of grassfed dairy products, and how to find them, please visit Why Grassfed Is Best.
- Pastured eggs.
Studies have found that eggs produced by chickens raised on pasture are
three to six times higher in vitamin D than eggs from hens kept in
battery cages or "free-range" in giant warehouses. To find a source of
real free range eggs, check your local farmer's market, contact the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, or raise your own! Remember, vitamin D is found only in the yolk.
- Fortified dairy products. Many dairy products in the United States are now fortified with vitamin D by law. Fortified orange juice is also available in many areas.
- Coldwater fish such as salmon and cod. Cod liver oil is also an excellent source, if you can stand it. (Few can.)
Do you suffer from menstrual cramps? Learn how a healthy diet can help fight cramps in 20 Ways To Relieve Menstrual Cramps.