5 Reasons Why You Should Be Thinking About Your Vitamin D Intake During Perimenopause and Beyond
Updated: May 17, 2021
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. It’s sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because the best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure.
Our skin contains “pre” vitamin D. When exposed to UV rays from the sun, this “previtamin” is converted into an active vitamin D form in a two-step process involving the liver and then finally the kidneys.
Vitamin D is unique in that it acts more like a hormone. That means it’s produced in one part of the body (e.g. the skin) and travels through to act on another part (e.g. the bones).
Let’s take a look at 5 big roles vitamin D has in promoting good health during perimenopause and beyond.
1. VITAMIN D FOR BONE HEALTH
Vitamin D is most known for its importance for bone health. Bones are alive and are constantly remodeling themselves. This means they, as all tissues, need a constant supply of nutrients.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium more efficiently. And the mineral calcium is one of the major players to “mineralize” and strengthen our bones.
Vitamin D works with other hormones to ensure optimal levels of calcium in the blood. When it comes to calcium, the body always prioritizes the blood over the bones. This is because the blood transports calcium around the body for critical functions like contractions of the heart and muscles. This is why it’s more important to maintain the calcium levels in the blood over levels in the bone.
When there is enough calcium in the blood, any excess is stored in the bones. This is when the bones are mineralized and strengthened. When there isn’t enough calcium in the blood two things happen to raise this level. First, vitamin D stored in the liver is activated to help absorb more calcium from food. Second, the body removes calcium stored in the bones to raise levels in the blood.
When we don’t get enough vitamin D (and calcium) regularly, bones can become weak and brittle and the risk of osteoporosis increases.
It is estimated that women lose bone mass most rapidly beginning 1 to 2 years before menopause and continuing for 5 to 10 years after menopause.
2. VITAMIN D FOR HEART HEALTH
Several studies have linked low levels of vitamin D in the blood with heart disease.
The loss of estrogen at menopause makes many women more vulnerable to unhealthy cholesterol levels, increased inflammation and high blood pressure.
Higher levels of vitamin D in the blood may reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Supplementing with vitamin D may help lower blood pressure slightly.
3. VITAMIN D AND CANCER
Higher blood levels of vitamin D is associated with a significantly lower risk of colon cancer and breast cancers in women.
In the lab, cancer cells don’t seem to do as well when exposed to higher levels of vitamin D. They don’t divide or invade other tissues as well; and, they seem to die easier.
Menopause does not cause cancer or increase your risk of getting cancer. But, the levels of hormones in our body can have an influence on the growth and development of cancer cells.
4. VITAMIN D AND BLOOD SUGAR MANAGEMENT
Hormone level changes during perimenopause can trigger blood sugar fluctuations and increase the risk of developing diabetes.
Studies show that low vitamin D levels are associated with higher levels of insulin resistance in people without diabetes and low vitamin D may also increase the risk of developing diabetes.
5. VITAMIN D FOR MENTAL AND BRAIN HEALTH
Cells in key areas of the brain have “receptors” for vitamin D. Vitamin D also has a role in circadian rhythms and sleep and affects the growth of nerve cells.
There is growing evidence of the links between low blood levels of vitamin D and symptoms of depression.
Low mood and depression are common complaints among women transitioning through menopause.
Some studies also show a link between low vitamin D levels and increased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
And, here's another very good reason to think about vitamin D.
Vitamin D and digestive diseases
Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, it’s absorbed along with fat in the diet. So, people who don’t eat or absorb enough fat are at risk of lower vitamin D levels. This can include people with many digestive issues such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s & colitis, as well as people who have had gastric bypass surgery.
Also, a healthy vitamin D status seems to go hand-in-hand with a healthy gut. For example, there is a link between sub-optimal vitamin D, gut microbiome status, gut inflammation, and diseases of the gut like IBD and colon cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency.
Studies show that between 30-80% of people simply don’t get enough vitamin D. This deficiency is so common that some researchers have called it a “public health concern” and a “global problem.”
Vitamin D deficiencies can happen when, over time, people are not getting enough sun exposure.
The problem is, as we age, our skin becomes thinner. A woman’s skin thins significantly after menopause. This makes it more difficult for our skin cells to produce the vitamin D our body requires at this stage of life.
So, what about getting vitamin D from foods?
Vitamin D is not naturally found in very many foods. The best sources include fatty fish and fish liver oils. Naturally occurring plant sources of vitamin D are some mushrooms that have been exposed to the sun.
Because vitamin D is naturally found in so few foods, it is also added to certain foods. This is called “fortification.” Some of these vitamin D fortified foods include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt.
Still, all these food sources have a minimal amount of vitamin D compared to what our bodies can make from the sun.
If you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency or are concerned with your vitamin D levels, your health care provider can test your blood for levels of 25(OH)D and recommend a course of action for you. It is likely that you will be asked to start a vitamin D supplement, especially those of us living in Canada with fewer days of sunshine.
Let’s take a look at vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D supplements come in two forms: D2 and D3. The plant-based D2 form is manufactured by exposing yeast to UV radiation. The animal-based D3 form is made from lanolin extracted from sheep’s wool. Many physicians recommend D3 as it's considered the most natural form and is absorbed by the body more easily.
If you don’t have a professional recommendation for how much vitamin D to take, the safest way to supplement is to follow the instructions on the label. And never take more than 4,000IU/day (100 mcg/day), unless told to by your licensed healthcare provider.
That’s because too much vitamin D can become toxic. One effect of too much vitamin D is that blood levels of calcium can get too high. This can lead to “calcification” which can damage blood vessels, the heart, and kidneys. Getting too much vitamin D is mostly a risk when taking supplements.
And remember - Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so be sure to take it with a meal that contains fat.
Please keep in mind too that it’s always best to check with your doctor and/or pharmacist if you’re taking medications because vitamin D supplements can interact with some of them.
Check out my Menopause Support - General Wellness Protocol in my online supplement dispensary. This protocol includes a high quality (dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, & non-GMO), practitioner-grade vitamin D supplement and more!
For vitality and longevity, the menopause transition period is a great time to make changes to your diet, lifestyle, and supplement routine. If you are looking for support and/or guidance during your transition through menopause and beyond, I would love to work with you. Let's chat.
* References available upon request.