The more we learn about vitamin D, the better it sounds. The latest study from Denmark was announced this week at the American Heart Association conference. It shows that vitamin D deficiency in women increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and death by 50%. This joins a long list of studies that show that Vitamin D is essential, not just for heart health, but also for proper immune function, bone health, cancer prevention, and more. Although there are no studies yet to prove it, we suspect that there is a Vitamin D-PMS connection as well as a Vitamin D-PMDD relationship.
The best way to get vitamin D is from sunlight. Of course, many people avoid the sun because of skin damage and skin cancer concerns. Did you know, though, that your skin can make vitamin D even when you’re in the shade? The sun rays that allow your skin to make vitamin D can be absorbed when they bounce off of leaves, rocks, and buildings. So spending time outside, even if it is not directly in the sun, will work to boost your vitamin D level. Of course, if you are wearing clothing or sunscreen that blocks sunlight from reaching your skin, this won’t work.
One of most overlooked vitamin D issues is that if you are dark-skinned, for instance Asian, South Asian, African-American, Native American, or otherwise have highly pigmented skin, the melanin (coloring) in your skin prevents you from being able to manufacture vitamin D without being outside, or out in the sun, for a prolonged period of time. This is particularly important in northern climates with long, cold winters.
Although most media sources mention eating fish livers (who does that?!) and drinking milk and orange juice as sources of vitamin D, this isn’t helpful advice. The best way to get vitamin D other than sunlight is from taking vitamin D supplements. It’s too hard, if not impossible, to get adequate vitamin D from food. This is especially true if a test determines you are deficient; if you have dark skin; or if you live in a northern climate.
Since the media doesn’t seem capable of telling the truth about supplements (or, perhaps, of telling truth from fiction when it comes to supplements) here is what a woman needs to know about vitamin D supplements: it is nearly impossible to overdose on vitamin D. We recommend taking 2000-5000 IU of vitamin D per day during the indoor months, particularly if you live in a northern part of the country.
Vitamin D isn’t first line treatment for PMS or for PMDD. But it is essential, and too many women just don’t have adequate an vitamin D level. We’ll be talking more about how to understand lab tests for vitamin D in another post.