Vitamin D- what does it do and could it help your menopause symptoms?
One thing many people don’t know about Vitamin D, otherwise known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is that it’s actually a hormone. And it’s an important one when it comes bone health and preventing common menopause symptoms like joint and muscle pain.
Its real name is calcitriol or 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol. This is the active form of vitamin D, normally made in the kidney but we need sunshine to make it. It binds to and activates the vitamin D receptor in our cells and helps us control the concentration of calcium in the blood. This is vital for the development of strong bones, among other things. These are some of the key functions and benefits of vitamin D:
- Bone Health: Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphate in the gut. This is critical for preventing rickets and brittle bones/osteoporosis.
- Immune System Support: Vitamin D plays a role in supporting the immune system’s function. It can help modulate immune responses and may help the body defend against infections and diseases.
- Cell Growth and Regulation: Vitamin D is involved in cell growth, regulation, and differentiation. Studies suggest it may play a role in controlling cell proliferation and preventing the development of cancerous cells.
- Inflammation Control: Adequate vitamin D levels may help regulate inflammation in the body, which is important for overall health. Chronic inflammation is associated with various diseases and conditions.
- Mood and Mental Health: Some studies have suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency and mood disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While the exact relationship is complex and not fully understood, maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may have a positive impact on mental health.
- Heart Health: There is ongoing research into the potential role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of heart disease. Some studies have suggested that good vitamin D levels may be associated with better cardiovascular health.
What are the symptoms of low Vitamin D levels?
Possible symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Bone pain
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- A tingly, “pins-and-needles” sensation in the hands or feet
- Muscle weakness in body parts near the trunk of the body, such as the upper arms or thighs
- Waddling while walking, due to muscle weakness in the hips or legs
- A history of broken bones
- Muscle twitches or tremors
- Muscle spasms
- Bowed legs (when the deficiency is severe).
How much Vitamin D should you take?
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D can vary depending on age, sex, life stage, and individual health factors. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for vitamin D in the United States are as follows:
- Infants (0-12 months): 400-1,000 IU (10-25 mcg) per day
- Children (1-18 years): 600-1,000 IU (15-25 mcg) per day
- Adults (19-70 years): 600-800 IU (15-20 mcg) per day
- Adults (71 years and older): 800-1,000 IU (20-25 mcg) per day
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600-800 IU (15-20 mcg) per day.
In the UK the NHS recommendations are lower.
It says everyone over the age of 1 year should have 10 micrograms (mcg or µg) or 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day (Public Health England and warns against taking higher doses.
“Do not take more than 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful. This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17 years.”
It’s important to note that vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to sunlight as well as through dietary sources.
Good food sources of vitamin D are:
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
The body can produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight but in the UK its advised to take a supplement from October to April.
You can have a blood test to measure your Vitamin D levels if you are concerned about them.
What happens if I take too much Vitamin D?
If your vitamin D level is too high it can cause vitamin D toxicity. This is a buildup of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause:
- frequent urination
- bone pain
- kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
If you have concerns about your vitamin D levels or are considering taking supplements, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional. They can assess your individual needs and recommend appropriate supplementation if necessary, as excessive vitamin D intake can have adverse effects. Additionally, a healthcare provider can help identify and address any underlying health conditions related to vitamin D deficiency.