Vitamin D and Women’s Health

October 10, 2019

Getting enough vitamin D can go a long way to boosting your health. Here is our take on what women need to know about Vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient the body needs in order to maintain health.  It is well-known for helping the body absorb calcium and for creating strong bones, but it is important for muscles, nerves, and the immune system too.  It also plays a part in preventing many common diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and cancer.

What are the sources?

The sun can be a great source.  Your body makes its own Vitamin D when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight.  For much of the United States, sun is lacking during the winter months. Getting sun on your face, arms, and legs at midday during the summer helps increase your level.  The length of time you should stay in the sun depends on how much skin is exposed and the color of your skin.  Fair skin requires less time in the sun than darker skin.  To reduce your skin cancer risk, however, sunscreen use is recommended if you are going to be exposed to sunlight for more than a few minutes, and sunscreen unfortunately prevents your body from making Vitamin D.  The bottom line: It’s not easy to get all of your Vitamin D from the sun, and it’s not even possible in the winter.

Just a few foods naturally contain Vitamin D.  Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, tuna, catfish, and mackerel have a lot, and mushrooms and eggs have a little.  Foods like milk, cereal, orange juice, and soy foods are often fortified with it.

It is also available as a supplement.  It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether you need a supplement and how much you should take.

Should I be concerned about my Vitamin D level?

It is important for women to get enough Vitamin D because women are at increased risk of bone loss as they get older.  If you spend most of your time indoors, if you always wear sunscreen when you go outside, and if you don’t eat many of the foods that give us Vitamin D, you should talk to your doctor about having your level checked.  Other groups that are at-risk include: the elderly, people with dark skin, people who are obese, and people who have cystic fibrosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or liver disease.  Signs and symptoms may include bone pain and muscle weakness. Symptoms are often subtle.  Many women are not getting enough Vitamin D.

On the other hand, it is possible to get too much Vitamin D too.  This is an uncommon problem that occurs when someone gets too much from supplements.  You will not get too much from the sun because your body knows when you have enough and will stop making it.  Signs and symptoms of too much include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and irregular heart rhythm.  Bone pain and muscle weakness also fall into this category, so they can signal either too much or too little.

How can I check my level?

Your doctor can order a simple blood test to check your Vitamin D level.  Doctors are well aware of the benefits of Vitamin D and the problems that come from not getting enough Vitamin D or from getting too much, and they can answer your questions and determine whether you need a blood test.  If your level is low, your doctor will recommend over-the-counter supplements. He or she will prescribe a higher dose if needed.  Your doctor will monitor your levels over time and adjust your amount of supplementation.

As you can see, this is an important nutrient that helps your body in many ways.  Too little can cause health problems, but the good news is that getting enough is easy through a combination of sunlight, food, and possibly supplements.  When it comes to Vitamin D, a fun and relaxing trip to the beach or pool may be just what the doctor orders!