Trying to conceive but forgetting about vitamin D? Great.
I hate winter in Berlin and don’t see any reason why not to hate winter in Berlin. I could count over a dozen reasons for it and the first one is the fact that winter in Berlin lasts for about six months each year.
And as much as I try to at least like Christmas now that we have kids, my most positive feelings about Christmas usually come when I realize it’s over and everyone can go back to work and life as usual.
I mean, what is to like about the end of December 2016? I hate excessive shopping, I hate useless decorations, and I hate anything that destroys our only ecosystem, Earth. Needless to say, I hate terrorists.
Last week,when we had a terrorist attack here in the heart of Berlin, just 3–4 km from our home, I really sank into that “why me?” feeling.
I lived in Sarajevo (and loved it): the city vanished in the very year that I was an exchange student in the U.S. Then I lived in Belgrade (and loved it): NATO bombed it just months after I left the city to do my PhD in Germany. Now I’m in Berlin (and love it), but can’t stand anything anymore that remotely has to do with instability, madness, and changing my life in a violent way. Not even Christmas.
In the week before the attack, my kids had been to that very winter market three times. THREE times! Once with me, once with Gerald, and once with their kindergarten. We all thought it would be a safe and fun place to take them. Thank God we thought that on days other than Monday.
So, I will do my best to ignore the distractions and address today a topic that is important and positive, yet many women don’t know enough about it. I would like us to have a small conversation about the role of vitamin D in women’s health.
The days are short and the opportunities to refuel in the sun and thereby produce vitamin D are not many.
Not even the most naïve among us believe we get enough vitamin D (and other nutrients) because we “eat healthy.”
Experts can tell stories about how fruits and vegetables coming from greenhouses are healthy and deliver all the nutrients we need, or claim how meat from animals (which often live under conditions that are closer to death than life) is the kind of protein that children should be fed. But no one today really knows what a “balanced diet” is supposed to be for each one of us. We’ve gone too far in destroying our environment and, as we keep changing it more every day, we only can guess what the best lifestyle and good diet mean for each one of us.
Although we may not know what a healthy diet really is, we do know that during winter it will not be enough to provide sufficient vitamin D.
For those of us who spend most time indoors, even foods rich in vitamin D, such as fat fish, cod liver oil, and avocados (and how much of that do you eat daily?) are not enough to ensure a healthy vitamin D supply.
Taking vitamin D supplements is one of the rare cases in the supplement world where there are only benefits and no harmful effects. And this is not because vitamin D is a harmless compound, but because how far we’ve gone in our disconnecting from the environment and how epidemic the vitamin D-deficiency has become.
If you’re trying to conceive, then there is really no need to risk a vitamin D deficiency.
Recent research in reproductive medicine has shown that vitamin D helps with embryo implantation by preventing, or least reducing auto-immune issues that may arise (and are at the core of endometriosis and some other infertility-related disorders).
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to infertility. Recent research shows women who have sufficient vitamin D intake are more likely to become pregnant (and produce high quality embryos if undergoing in in vitro) than those who are deficient in this essential vitamin.
But how much vitamin D do you need in winter? Are there any clear conditions or signs that indicate you need vitamin D?
1. Overweight. Even vitamin experts often forget to mention that vitamin D (like all fat-soluble vitamins) becomes kind of “diluted” and easily disappears in the nirvana of our adipose tissue. So, with each extra BMI point (and here is how you can calculate your BMI) you’ll need more vitamin D to maintain good health.
2. Food intolerances. Many women have sensitive intestines and difficulties in processing food. In those sensitive types, even some common food ingredients, like gluten, various aminoacids, etc., can trigger inflammatory and autoimmune processes (like celiac or Crohn’s disease). They’re no fun to have and it can take years to diagnose them. Given that fat absorption becomes especially difficult in such chronic conditions, women who suffer them usually develop a vitamin D deficiency as a side-effect.
3. Any skin color darker than white. Why? Because skin pigmentation is meant to protect us from sunlight, especially from a wavelength of about 290nm (the UVB part of the light spectrum), which are very damaging to our DNA.
Briefly, in sunlight, melatonin gets quickly recruited to the upper skin layers to absorb harmful radiation (the very same one which triggers the skin cells to produce vitamin D). So the vitamin D sythesis will drop down exponentially, which is useful if you live in Africa, but not useful in the countries where most women who read this blog live.
The problem of vitamin D deficiency worsens with the use of sunscreens – with a protection factor of > 20, natural vitamin D synthesis becomes close to impossible. The fact is, if you live in North America or Western Europe, then you will most likely need to take extra vitamin D for about eight months out of the year to best support your reproductive health (also your bone health – the menopause may seem far off to you right now, but it might come sooner than you imagine).
You can find excellent vitamin D products here by PharmaNord – these people really understand how to make supplements that are easily absorbed by the body and delivered to exactly where they are needed. Or, take any other good vitamin D supplement that you find, but do take one.
I tell you this not only because I’ve spent 12 years in basic vitamin D research, but because I know what experts will tell you – here is one short and nice video:
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Now, I wish I could say that taking a vitamin D pill or any other pill will solve the problem and make eggs beautiful and prevent deficiency forever. But it won’t.
Women who are trying to conceive should try to maximize their time outside in the natural environment, in the sunshine (with more than just the arms and the face exposed).
Regardless of what the beauty industry is trying to make us believe, sunshine is, and remains, our friend. Having said that, you of course need to prevent having your skin burned, but there are things I don’t mention on this blog because I assume my audience already knows.
To save you from searching Google for “what is the optimal vitamin D level in women,” let me say it’s 30ng/ml or more. Moreover, the blood compound you need to determine is called 25-Dihydroxyvitamin D (the second to last step in vitamin D synthesis and that acts as like a reservoir), NOT simply “vitamin D.” I explain all about it in my book (which is at the top of it’s category for the past three years).
To conclude, it’s really a no-brainer to stay on the sunny side and rule out vitamin D deficiency.
You can consider having good or, if possible, high vitamin D levels as a good investment in the future health of your child. You can read in the scientific publications about how vitamin D levels are predictive of IVF success, or how vitamin D strengthens bones and muscles, thus easing natural birthing, or how vitamin D lowers the odds of children developing schizophrenia later in life.
And that’s not all. Recent research in reproductive medicine tells us that sperm swim better when there is ample vitamin D available. Finally, it turns out that some old research was wrong (remember the headlines that mother’s milk did not have much vitamin D and doctors, therefore, deduced that infants probably don’t need it?). Well, we now know that most women in industrialized societies are themselves so deficient that their bodies keep all the vitamin D, leaving babies with hardly any.
We’ll discuss this in one of the next articles.
Until then, keep your vitamin D level high (and stay away from terrorists).
• Vitamin D deficiency and infertility: insights from in vitro fertilization cycles. Paffoni A, Ferrari S, Viganò P, Pagliardini L, Papaleo E, Candiani M, Tirelli A, Fedele L, Somigliana E.J. Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Nov;99(11):E2372-6. doi: 10.1210/jc.2014-1802.
• The effect of serum vitamin D levels on ovarian reserve markers: a prospective cross-sectional study. Drakopoulos P, van de Vijver A, Schutyser V, Milatovic S, Anckaert , Schiettecatte J, Blockeel C, Camus M, Tournaye H, Polyzos NP. Hum Reprod. 2016 Dec 6.
• Modulatory effects of vitamin D on peripheral cellular immunity in patients with recurrent miscarriage. Chen X, Yin B, Lian RC, Zhang T, Zhang HZ, Diao LH, Li YY, Huang CY, Liang DS, Zeng Y. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2016 Dec;76(6):432-438. doi: 10.1111/aji.12585.
• Vitamin D deficiency and pregnancy rates following frozen-thawed embryo transfer: a prospective cohort study. van de Vijver A, Drakopoulos P, Van Landuyt L, Vaiarelli A, Blockeel C, Santos-Ribeiro S, Tournaye H, Polyzos NP. Hum Reprod. 2016 Aug;31(8):1749-54. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dew107.
• A randomised controlled trial of a preconceptional dietary intervention in women undergoing IVF treatment (PREPARE trial). Kermack AJ, Calder PC, Houghton FD, Godfrey KM, Macklon NS. BMC Womens Health. 2014 Nov 18;14:130. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-14-130.
• Vitamin D and male reproduction. Blomberg Jensen M. at Rev Endocrinol. 2014 Mar;10(3):175-86. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2013.262.
• Males with low serum levels of vitamin D have lower pregnancy rates when ovulation induction and timed intercourse are used as a treatment for infertile couples: results from a pilot study. Tartagni M, Matteo M, Baldini D, Tartagni MV, Alrasheed H, De Salvia MA, Loverro G, Montagnani M. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2015 Nov 21;13:127. doi: 10.1186/s12958-015-0126-9.