I have been pretty pale my whole life. When I got made fun of for it as a kid, I was embarrassed (and I did have a go at the tanning salon for prom, and one skin-frying month in college). As an adult, I’ve consciously spent little time in the sun because the skin damage isn’t worth it. But completely avoiding it doesn’t do you any favors either.
Your body needs sunlight to make Vitamin D. You know that, though—I won’t recycle that info for you (though I will remind you that you don’t really need more than 20 minutes of unprotected time in the sun).
What I’ll tell you instead is how it helps your period problems.
How vitamin D deficiency hurts your hormones
Vitamin D deficiency can have a significant impact on reproductive hormones in both men and women. In men, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to low testosterone levels and decreased sperm quality. In women, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with menstrual irregularities, decreased fertility, and an increased risk of gestational diabetes. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight in pregnant women.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin our bodies can actually make out of practically nothing. It’s the closest to photosynthesis we’re going to get. But we spend our days inside our (home) offices, stuck at our desks and not getting much direct sunlight.
Vitamin D is well known to support bone health, but it’s also super important for your thyroid. Low vitamin D blocks the production of thyroid hormone. This impacts metabolism, and also throws off multiple parts of the endocrine system. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to decreased pregnenolone production in some studies.
It goes kind of like this:
There is a complex relationship between the thyroid and pregnenolone. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which play a role in the regulation of metabolism, energy production, and other bodily functions. Pregnenolone, on the other hand, is a precursor hormone that is involved in the synthesis of other hormones, including thyroid hormones.
Low levels of pregnenolone can lead to hormonal imbalances, including low levels of thyroid hormones. Conversely, low levels of thyroid hormones can also lead to decreased pregnenolone production.
Basically, this little hormone cascade results in two important concerns:
- Not enough progesterone. This is a big deal because progesterone is estrogen’s counterpart in a healthy menstrual cycle. Estrogen rules the first half and progesterone rules the second half.
- A negative feedback loop that keeps the thyroid from functioning properly, which impairs the body’s ability to make enough progesterone, which impairs thyroid function.
What this means for your monthly cycle and fertility
Vitamin D deficiency can be negatively affect your cycle and your fertility—and therefore your health (because fertility is synonymous with optimal health). Upsetting the progesterone-estrogen balance can result in all sorts of symptoms like:
- Irregular bleeding
- Weepiness pre-period
- Luteal phase defect
- Painful periods
And since progesterone is the pregnancy hormone, this can also mean increased likelihood of infertility or miscarriages.
Low thyroid hormone also comes with its own set of issues like:
- Hair loss
- Pelvic pain
- Abdominal pain
- Ovarian cysts
- and more
How do you know if you’re deficient in Vitamin D?
Any number of period problems or symptoms of an underactive thyroid can signal a deficiency.
The best thing to do is to get tested so you can determine exactly where your vitamin D levels are at. Ask your doctor for a 25(OH) vitamin D test.
Also, be aware that you may not exhibit noticeable symptoms even if you are mildly deficient.
If you’re not able to get the test you need at the doctor, I recommend LetsGetChecked for at-home testing. (Use code GOODWITCH30 for 30% off.)
Sources of Vitamin D
The sun is by far the best way to get bioavailable vitamin D. But if you can’t get enough sun exposure, you can get vitamin D from your food and/or from supplements.
- Food: Fatty fish (salmon, cod, mackerel), mushrooms, grass-fed butter, and eggs are good sources of vitamin D. Opt for these whole foods over fortified foods like processed dairy and cereal products.
- Supplements: Fermented cod liver oil has the benefit of being a food-derived source that comes with other bonuses, like healthy fats. I’d also recommend a Vitamin D supplement with Vitamin K, which helps absorption. Consult with your health care practitioner on the proper dosage for your needs.
Whether or not you have access to the sun right now, keep this important nutrient in mind! Your hormones will thank you