Vitamin D Benefits For Fertility, Pregnancy & Overall Health

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Unless you live in the tropics year-round or take supplements proactively, chances are you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. And despite widespread educational campaigns to raise awareness, vitamin D deficiency has persisted to the point that most forward-thinking doctors recommend testing your levels annually.

And for nearly everyone over 30, supplementation is indicated. However, as a functional medicine doctor (and a busy mother of three), I recommend my patients get their vitamin D levels checked more frequently and as early in their adult lives as possible. Why? Because optimal vitamin D levels are crucial to nearly every single bodily function, including successful conception―for men and women―and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Plus, optimizing your vitamin D levels sooner rather than later can prevent a slew of modern chronic ailments from manifesting later in life.

Here is everything you need to know about vitamin D for health, conception, pregnancy, disease prevention, and beyond.

What is vitamin D?

While its name is slightly misleading, vitamin D is both a vitamin and a hormone essential for healthy bodily function. Often nicknamed "the sunshine vitamin," vitamin D mostly enters our bodies via the sun, which is absorbed by our skin and converted to a usable form by cholesterol. You can get some vitamin D from specific foods, but the majority comes from good old-fashioned sunshine.

While all nutrients play a crucial, symbiotic role in maintaining health, vitamin D is especially important as it is essential for nearly every single bodily system and function including the musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, renal, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.

It’s even essential for healthy genetics and gene expression. Vitamin D has been shown to be responsible for up to 3 percent of what’s known as "gene transcription," the process in which your inherited genes are expressed or activated. In other words, vitamin D plays one of the most essential roles in nourishing your body, protecting your genes, preventing acute and chronic disease, and maintaining your overall health.

How vitamin D supercharges your health and prevents disease.

Labs to request for vitamin D deficiency.

The safest and smartest way to optimize your vitamin D consumption is to monitor your blood levels. To do so, have your doctor specifically order a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, also known as the 25-OH D test. The optimal (not just "normal") amount you want to see is 45 to 65 ng/mL, and in some cases, even higher levels are appropriate.

How to get more vitamin D.

The amount of vitamin D required to replenish deficiencies depends upon your lab tests, so check with your provider for individual recommendations and follow these guidelines:

  • Get enough unfiltered, unprotected sunlight each day (see below).
  • If you need to supplement, choose a vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2, and work closely with your doctor to monitor your levels: Vitamin K2 acts as an essential "GPS" for the calcium liberated by vitamin D, ensuring it gets to the right places in your body―like your bones―while staying out of the wrong places―like your arteries. Vitamin K2 is a must for safe vitamin D supplementation.

Sources of whole vitamin D-boosting foods include:

  • Shiitake and button mushrooms (leave them in the sun to elevate their vitamin D levels)
  • Mackerel
  • Sockeye salmon
  • Cod liver oil
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Sardines
  • Eggs

Vitamin D and sun exposure.

In my experience as a physician and based on the current research, moderate sun exposure is best. Therefore, I recommend getting some unprotected sun exposure every day based on the Vitamin D Council’s recommendations for your skin type, location, etc. (see below), and to never let your skin burn. Then be sure and protect yourself with a nontoxic sunscreen thereafter.

Here are the Vitamin D Council’s sun exposure guidelines based on skin type:

  • Those with very light to light skin likely need 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure.
  • Those with naturally tan skin can take unprotected sun for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • While those with darker skin can safely take one to two hours of unprotected sun exposure.

To recap:

  • Most of us who live in North America are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • The 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, also known as the 25-OH D test, is the best way to determine your vitamin D levels.
  • Vitamin D is both a vitamin and a hormone essential for nearly every single bodily function.
  • Optimal/functional ranges lie between 45 and 60 ng/mL, and higher levels may be appropriate for some individuals.
  • Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a wide variety of conditions including autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammatory conditions (like heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and MS), cancer, gut health, thyroid conditions, fertility (in men and women), pregnancy complications, and developmental issues in children.
  • Vitamin D is especially important for new mothers during preconception, conception, pregnancy, and postpartum.
  • Your best source of vitamin D is the sun. But be careful about overexposure.
  • Your next best source is a D3/K2 supplement, as recommended by your doctor or health care practitioner.
  • You can also get vitamin D from foods such as mushrooms, mackerel, sockeye salmon, cod liver oil, grass-fed beef, sardines, and eggs.
  • As a functional medicine doctor, I recommend getting your levels checked at least twice annually, possibly more if you’re on a high-dose supplementation protocol.

Frank Lipman, M.D.

Vitamin D Benefits For Fertility, Pregnancy & Overall Health
Frank Lipman, M.D.

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