Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because its production is intricately linked to sunlight. Scientifically speaking, the molecule known as Vitamin D is not really a vitamin since all other vitamins are not produced by the body the way Vit D is. However, it is so intrinsic to our body’s functioning that it has been classified as a vitamin. We have known for a long time about the effect Vitamin D has on our bone health, but it has also been proven to be an important hormone for women.
Research has shown that people with low blood levels of vitamin D are at a greater risk of heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, diabetes or high blood pressure later in life. In pregnant women, low vitamin D level has been found to be linked to conditions like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Thus, it won’t be a far stretch to say that no matter what your age in life, it is important to have healthy levels of Vitamin D for everyone.
Factors that affect Vitamin D production and absorption in the body
There can be many factors that affect how our bodies produce Vitamin D and how it gets absorbed in our systems. People with darker skin pigmentation have a higher concentration of melanin in their skin, and this can block sunlight absorbed by the skin. Hence, they might tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D in their blood.
This is also true of those people who use a lot of sunscreen as the product might also act as a sunscreen blocker. If you don’t spend much time outdoors, or are overweight or obese, you may be at risk to have low levels of Vitamin D. This is because vitamin D is a fat soluble hormone, so it gets easily trapped in extra fatty tissue. Even if your body is producing enough amounts of the hormone, it will not be available for use by your body as it should be.
Some types of gastrointestinal surgery, like having a gastric bypass, can also make it difficult to absorb vitamin D. Age is also an important factor in this whole scenario - as we get older, our bodies don’t absorb vitamin D well, and neither do we produce as much as we did before.
When to use a Vitamin D supplement
The upper tolerable limit for Vitamin D is 4,000 international units (IU) daily. However, you do not necessarily need to intake that much! The recommended amount for women aged 14 to 70 is 600 IU per day. Women aged 71 and older should aim for a higher dose of 800 IU per day, as some of the daily intake will be wasted due to reduced absorption.
Most of this daily recommended value can be availed through regular physical activity - both indoors and outdoors to maintain a healthy weight. Since obesity is linked to reduced absorption of Vitamin D, keeping your weight in check will help you absorb the vitamin better.
Modest exposure to sunlight early in the morning (10 to 15 minutes of exposure per day is recommended), eating a healthy diet consisting of Vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish (hilsa or rohu), oatmeal, orange juice, and moderate amounts of fortified, low-fat dairy can be helpful.
However, if you still find your Vitamin D levels to be constantly on the lower end of the spectrum, then it is time to consult a doctor and find healthy supplements that can help you boost your levels. Your doctor may also recommend that you take this supplement in conjunction with calcium supplements, since both are related to bone health and Vitamin D can actually speed up the absorption of calcium in the body. In the long run, ensuring you have enough of these two vitamins in your body can help prevent osteoporosis.
What to know before starting Vitamin D supplements
While these supplements are generally safe, it is important to do proper tests to understand if there are any other underlying factors for deficiency. Talk to a doctor before starting any supplement, and do not forget to do repeat tests to check your D levels. Repeat testing can be done in 8-12 weeks to ensure that the vitamin levels are neither too high nor too low.
Vitamin D supplements are not like other supplements which are supposed to be taken life long. In most cases, once the supplement is taken and your vitamin levels go up, you can keep it at the recommended level via physical activity and dietary changes. An annual health check up should give you an indication of whether or not you need to go back on supplements. This is why using Vitamin D supplements under medical supervision is necessary.
If your deficiency is due to an underlying condition, then you may need a different dose of the vitamin supplement. So, if you suffer from chronic kidney disease or parathyroid disease, we encourage you to start supplements only after consulting with your kidney specialist or endocrinologist. If you are pregnant, your daily recommended value of the vitamin might change as well. Use supplements as directed by your obstetrician for better health for you and your baby.