You may have seen Vitamin D and calcium coupled together in one pill in your local supplement aisle. And rightfully so! Vitamin D is essential for bone health. But Vitamin D is no one-trick pony. It’s one of several vitamins and nutrients that can affect the symptoms of PMS. In fact, the current research suggests that you may be able to use vitamin D to regulate your menstrual cycle. Here’s how.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of only a handful of fat-soluble vitamins. That means it’s best absorbed with fats, and any extra gets stored in your body’s fatty tissue and liver. Vitamin D is a nutrient known for helping with a whole bunch of important functions, like:
- Immune system support
- Muscle function
- Brain cell activity
- Bone health
Here’s something you might now know: Vitamin D deficiencies are surprisingly common in developing countries, including almost half of Americans. Medical research is slowly starting to figure out some of the consequences of low Vitamin D. But, you guessed it, irregular periods is one of them.
What does Vitamin D have to do with my cycle?
Over the past several years, many studies have found that there seems to be a relationship between low levels of Vitamin D and irregular periods. And that’s because it seems to play a role in follicle growth, ovulation and regulation of your cycle. In facgt, a 2021 study concluded that “a decreased level of Vitamin D was associated with 13.3 times [higher] odds of an irregular cycle.”
Low Vitamin D levels are also linked to our friend, Hypothyroidism. As regular hormonas will know, your Thyroid is responsible for releasing many of the hormones your body needs to function properly. And irregular periods can be sign that something is off.
So, it would seem that Vitamin D – also known as the sunshine vitamin – could actually be playing a role in irregular periods.
How much Vitamin D do I need to regulate my menstrual cycle?
The recommended amount of Vitamin D isn’t one size fits all. And the amount of Vitamin D you need to regulate your menstrual cycle is even more complicated. It depends on a bunch of different factors, including:
- Age: The older you are, the more Vitamin D you need.
- Skin Tone: Darker skin tones typically need more Vitamin D than lighter skin tones. This could be because darker skin doesn’t create Vitamin D as readily as lighter skin, because of prevailing socio-economic factors, or both. They’re still trying to work that one out.
- Geographic location: The farther you are from the equator, the weaker the Sun’s rays are.
- Season: In winter, there is simply less opportunity for your skin to create Vitamin D because the Sun isn’t out for as long, and people are inside for most of the day to stay warm.
- Lifestyle: People who spend most of their time indoors need more Vitamin D.
We know that’s not really a satisfying answer, so here are some very general guidelines for recommended daily amounts in international units (IU):
- Children up to age 1: 400 IU
- Ages 1 – 70: 600 IU
- Ages 70+: 800 IU
However, these amounts are on the very low end, so depending on the factors we mentioned earlier, you may need to take more. In addition, if you do have a Vitamin D deficiency, the greater your deficiency, the higher the required dose will be, which means 600IU may be way too low. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.
How do I know if I’m getting enough Vitamin D?
Your doctor can order blood work to test your Vitamin D levels.
If you aren’t able to get the necessary blood work, check for the following symptoms, which may indicate that your Vitamin D levels are low:
- Mood swings, such as depression
- Pain in your bones
- Muscle weakness
Although, as these symptoms also cover a couple of other hormone-related conditions, chances are you’ll be tested for thyroid issues and the like as well.
In children, Vitamin D deficiency can cause:
- Bowed or bent bones
- Joint deformities
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain.
How can I get more Vitamin D?
The tricky thing with Vitamin D is that it’s not naturally found in many foods. Cereal, as well as milk products and alternatives are often fortified with Vitamin D, meaning it’s an added extra. But, other than that, the only other significant sources of food-based Vitamin D are found in certain kinds of seafood, like salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna.
As we mentioned earlier, your body actually makes Vitamin D in your skin. It’s basically like the human version of photosynthesis, which is pretty magical when you think about it. But there’s a catch.
Most of us are stuck inside for a good part of the day, so our skin doesn’t really get the chance to create that Vitamin D. Plus, over the past few years, we have come to understand that sunlight also damages the skin, causing cancer and early signs of aging. So, naturally, we are – hopefully – wearing sunscreen more often, spending more time in the shade, and wearing more protective clothing.
So, what are we supposed to do?
The good news is there are a couple of ways you can get enough Vitamin D without completely destroying your skin or robbing the grocery store.
Yes, we know we just said it causes cancer and wrinkles, but it’s the easiest, cheapest, most natural way to get the Vitamin D your body needs. You only need about 10-30 minutes in the mid-day sun a few times a week to get the amount of Vitamin D you need. After that, you can run for shade and slather on the sunscreen.
Keep in mind that the farther you are from the equator, the weaker the Sun’s rays, particularly in the colder months. In that case, you may need more time in the sunlight to get the full effects.
Supplementing is an easy and popular way to ensure you get enough Vitamin D. You can get supplements in a variety of different dosages.
A word of caution: Since Vitamin D is fat-soluble, your body doesn’t simply get rid of the extra Vitamin D through your urine, as it does with Vitamin C, for example. So, there is a toxicity threshold for Vitamin D; you can take too much. And that can lead to nausea, vomiting and muscle pain. So, as with any supplement, it’s always best to talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting the right dose for you.
Not all sun lamps are created equal, so it can be difficult to tell if they’re worth your time and money. Sun lamps that are used to treat seasonal affective disorder – a form of depression – may or may not emit the right kinds of radiation in the right amounts to help with Vitamin D production. And other sun lamps may be just as damaging or even more damaging than the Sun.
So, if you’re looking to get a sun lamp, or you already have one, do your research and ask your doctor if they know of one that will meet your individual needs in the safest way possible.
Using Vitamin D to regulate your menstrual cycle
Clearly, Vitamin D plays a part in a regulated menstrual cycle, but it’s not a cure-all, because your body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to be balanced. But a quick self-assessment based on the factors we discussed earlier can give you an idea of whether you should consider taking Vitamin D to regulate your menstrual cycle.
Remember, you don’t need to jump in and start taking loads of Vitamin D. That could actually be very dangerous!
Start by being mindful of how much time you spend outside. Next try to track how much Vitamin D you consume in a day through your regular diet, including any supplements or multivitamins you may already be taking. Tally it all up and compare it with any risk factors, like your age, geographic location, etc.
If you think you may need a little more Vitamin D in your life, start by trying to get what you can through limited sun exposure and consuming more fortified dairy products, dairy alternatives, and seafood, where possible. If you’re still really short on Vitamin D, a supplement may help you reach the recommended daily amount for your personal circumstances.
Vitamin D supplements can interact – or cause problems – when taken with medications, such as medications for blood pressure and heart conditions, steroids, among others. So, as with any supplementation, you should always contact your healthcare provider first.
Vitamin D and you
It’s truly amazing what our bodies can do when given the right vitamins and nutrients to keep balanced. The research on using Vitamin D to regulate menstrual cycles looks very promising. And if you’re anything like us, you love another excuse to spend more time at the beach. But too much Vitamin D can be just as damaging as not enough. So, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional if you think your Vitamin D levels may be low and contributing to your irregular menstrual cycle.
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