Benefits of Vitamin D for Women in Menopause

If you are a woman in your 30s, 40s or 50s, it’s time to think about vitamin D. It's essential for many body processes and is important for women during menopause. Studies have linked it to preventing heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and some cancers.

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Vitamin D is unique in that it functions more like a hormone than a vitamin. And as we know from deficiencies in other hormones such as insulin and thyroid hormone, a hormonal deficiency can cause a multitude of problems.

It’s important to be aware of your intake of vitamin D as you approach menopause because research is discovering its role in the prevention of many diseases and conditions that are more common as you age. You may be aware of vitamin D as a helper for absorbing calcium and building bones, but it is involved in many other processes that protect you from disease and health problems.

Following are a few of the conditions that vitamin D can help treat or prevent.

Osteoporosis

Since vitamin D is critical for your body to absorb calcium and build bone properly, women who are older than 40, or who have risk factors for osteoporosis, should be sure to get adequate amounts of vitamin D. The combination of calcium and vitamin D are a frontline prevention and treatment for maintaining bone strength.

Cancer

There have been over a thousand studies showing an association between vitamin D and the prevention of nearly 30 types of cancers, especially colon, prostate, and breast cancers. Vitamin D is also associated with slowing growth in cancers already present.

The irony is that in trying to prevent non-melanoma skin cancers we have become consistent users of sunblock, which also blocks the ultraviolet light that skin needs to make vitamin D.

Not only may vitamin D deficiency lead to an increased risk of cancer, but we are learning that some of the treatments for cancer may not work as well in the setting of vitamin D deficiency, for example, the medication rituximab used for blood-related cancers is less effective in those with low vitamin D levels.

Mood Disorders

Vitamin D has been shown to improve low mood. Since mood lability is common during menopause, it is important to avoid vitamin D deficiency during this time.

Seasonable affective disorder (SAD) is low mood associated with briefer periods of daylight in winter. Discuss increasing your intake of vitamin D during the darker months with your doctor.you may want to boost your vitamin D intake during those darker months.

Diabetes

Adequate levels of vitamin D may have a strong association with your body’s ability to use insulin. Many studies have been done which have found that a low level of vitamin D results in a decrease in the release of insulin from the pancreas, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. In other words, vitamin D may make your body's use of insulin more efficient. Several studies are currently in progress looking at a possible causal relationship between low vitamin D levels and diabetes.

Cardiovascular Disease

Prior to menopause, women have a lesser risk from heart disease than do men. When estrogen in the body starts to decline, women begin to have the same risks for heart disease as men. Vitamin D may have a role in the prevention of heart disease, While vitamin D deficiency does seem to be associated with cardiovascular disease, it’s not clear why this is so. Some studies have failed to connect supplementing with vitamin D to the improvement of cardiovascular risks.

If you are concerned about heart disease, talk to your doctor about what the latest research is telling us with regard to vitamin D and cardiovascular disease.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Being vitamin D deficient may take a toll on your heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure is a sign that your risk for heart disease is greater. Studies have shown that supplementing your body with vitamin D and calcium can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Obesity

For an unknown reason, women who are overweight tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. It’s not known whether the low levels contribute to obesity or whether obesity lowers the levels, but the association exists. Vitamin D as an adjuvant to weight loss is being studied.

Other Health Conditions

Vitamin D has been studied for its role in treating and preventing other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, muscle weakness, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, celiac disease, and some autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D may improve fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, asthma, and allergies

Vitamin D Testing

After reading this information, you're probably wondering what your vitamin D level happens to be. Considering that the majority of the population is deficient, this is a good question to be asking. Thankfully, you can easily learn what your level of vitamin D is with a simple blood test done by your doctor.

How to Increase or Maintain Your Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D can be obtained through your diet, exposure to sunlight, or through a supplement.

Dietary vitamin D: Vitamin D is one vitamin that can be difficult to obtain in a healthy diet. Nutrition guidelines recommend a daily intake of 200 to 800 international units (IUs) depending on your age. We hear about milk as a good source, yet at 100 IU per eight-ounce glass, this could translate to 20 glasses of milk daily for adequate prevention, an amount of milk unlikely to be healthy for many reasons. Fatty fish may also grant you some vitamin D. In other words, it's hard for the average person to get enough vitamin D in a healthy diet, unlike nearly all other vitamins. 

Sunlight as a source of vitamin D: Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D but is dependent on your latitude, as well as your use of sunscreen. On the other hand, spending 15 minutes outside in shirtsleeves on a pleasant day could result in your body producing 5000 IU of vitamin D or more. As noted earlier, we may be trading a lower risk of skin cancer (and in that, the least deadly type of skin cancers) for a higher risk of more deadly cancers such as lung cancer and colon cancer by our conscientious use of sunscreen.

Though we have been listening to sunscreen commercials every way we turn, we are likely on the edge of change. A 2016 review in the journal Dermatoendocrinology states that insufficient sun exposure is an emerging health problem (due to lack of vitamin D as well as other reasons) and that the message of sun avoidance has to be changed to one of non-burning sun exposure sufficient to absorb an adequate amount of vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements: Many people choose to take a vitamin D supplement, but talk to your doctor first. She may recommend that you get a vitamin D level before starting a supplement. If your doctor believes you could benefit from a supplement, talk to her about the best dose to take. Since the vitamin is fat soluble, it is best absorbed when taken with a meal in which at least some fat is present. The type of vitamin D supplement you use can be important. Many physicians recommend using vitamin D3 but talk to your doctor.

Can You Get Too Much Vitamin D?

If you are healthy and your kidneys are functioning well, it is difficult to get too much vitamin D through dietary sources and sun exposure. You may get too much vitamin D, however, if you choose to take a supplement, especially a very high dose supplement. One of the side effects that may occur with too much vitamin D is painful kidney stones. Yet again, if you ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level and make a recommendation of a supplement dose (vitamin D3) if needed, it's usually possible to avoid this potential risk.

Bottom Line

As you get into your midlife, prevention becomes your best defense against age-related health conditions. Vitamin D is a central player in helping you stay strong, healthy and positive.

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