by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Recent research indicates what we have long suspected- vitamin D directly supports the immune system. Vitamin D supplements have been getting a lot of attention lately, and not just for those with PCOS. Recent studies point out you are more likely to get sick if you’re vitamin D deficient, citing a strong connection between vitamin D status and immunity.
Unfortunately, more than 80% of those with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) are deficient in Vitamin D. A deficiency in this critical vitamin exacerbates the symptoms associated with PCOS, including insulin resistance, irregular menstrual cycles, reproductive issues, and hirsutism. For this reason, I highly suggest that everyone with PCOS have their vitamin D levels tested. Your doctor can recommend the appropriate dosage according to those results. So, what’s the link between PCOS, vitamin D, and immunity?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is known as the “sun vitamin,” because the easiest and best way to get your daily dose of this vitamin is from exposure to sunlight. However, we don’t technically “get” vitamin D from the sun, but we do get UVB rays from it. These UVB rays hit the cholesterol in our skin cells which then trigger a biochemical reaction that ends with vitamin D synthesis.
Because vitamin D is something we produce and do not acquire from food, it is technically a steroid hormone, making it play a huge health factor to conditions that affect hormonal balance like PCOS.
Animal sources of vitamin D come in the form of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and plant sources provide ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). For humans, vitamin D3 is easier to absorb.
Dietary Sources of Vitamin D
Other than sunlight, we can also get our dose of vitamin D through diet. Here are some of the foods rich in the “sunshine” vitamin:
- Oily fish like sardines, herring, mackerel, and salmon (be careful of the sourcing)
- Red meat and liver
- Egg yolks
- Cod Liver Oil
- Mushrooms, with some varieties packing up to 3 times the daily value per 100-gram serving
- Fortified foods such as cow’s milk, breakfast cereals, and orange juice (all of which can be tricky with PCOS)
It should be noted that vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning taking vitamin D supplements without meals or a source of fat (such as meat or healthy oils) will make it hard for the body to absorb it. Fortunately, because it’s fat soluble, vitamin D can be stored by the body. This means you only need to expose your skin to sunlight or eat vitamin D-rich foods a few times a week to maintain healthy levels.
Despite the abundance of sources, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent, especially for those who rarely get sunlight exposure, or for those who don’t have access to vitamin D-rich foods. It may sound difficult to be vitamin D deficient, but most of us are for various reasons. Since new research suggests vitamin D levels could be a major factor in determining overall immunity, we all should have our levels checked.
The Link Between Vitamin D and Immunity
However, research has been clear when it comes to the link between vitamin D and our immunity, citing patients with sufficient vitamin D levels are less likely to get infected with a disease. In addition, it seems that sufficient vitamin D levels can help reduce the severity of some symptoms related to diseases caused by bacteria and viruses as well as help recover from them faster. How? In short, “Vitamin D status may influence the bacterial flora that constitute the microbiome and affect immune function through this route1.“
For example, in a 2017 review, researchers compiled 25 randomized control trials to determine the effects of vitamin D against acute respiratory infection such as the flu. They found that daily or weekly vitamin D supplementation helps with reducing the risks of getting the flu. We can confidently say that vitamin D’s role is more complex and critical than previously thought.
What Happens if I’m Deficient in Vitamin D?
The problem with vitamin D deficiency is you won’t really notice until you get the diseases or conditions associated with it. It may take weeks or years for the effects of the deficiency to fully manifest itself.
The most common symptom of vitamin D deficiency is rickets, a bone disease prevalent in children in developing nations. Then, we have bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis as well as a link to increased risks of falls and fractures, especially for older adults.
Finally, a deficiency in vitamin D is also strongly suggested to cause a shorter lifespan. While experts are still discussing whether it triggers diseases that reduce life expectancy or if it directly causes it, it would be a good idea to make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized.
One of the best ways to improve your vitamin D levels is by taking vitamin D supplements. However, not all supplements contain “bioavailable” or easy to process sources of vitamin D. In fact, many products out there sell poorly absorbed but cheaper to produce versions of vitamin D, which is worse if the dosage per serving is not that high to begin with.
If you want to make sure you’re getting value for your money, take vitamin D with vitamin K1 and K2.
Vitamin K complements vitamin D’s benefits, especially when it comes to calcium absorption. This vitamin helps “navigate” where the calcium (that vitamin D helps absorb) goes. Vitamin K promotes bone calcification (bone strengthening and repair) and reduces calcification of soft tissues like the kidneys and blood vessels.
Caution When Taking Vitamin D
Some studies suggest excessive vitamin D intake can cause more harm than good, but vitamin K can help “nullify” this to some extent.
a condition where the blood has too much calcium. Hypercalcemia can trigger a chain reaction that would ultimately lead to heart disease, but regular vitamin K intake is known to help lower the risk of heart disease. Put two and two together, and you understand how vitamin D synergizes with vitamin K.
Vitamin D should not be taken by those who have hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis, or if they take Coumadin or Warfarin.
Again, it’s important to have your levels of vitamin D tested so your doctor can adapt your dosage for optimal benefit.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
- Lucas, Robyn M et al. “Vitamin D and immunity.” F1000prime reports vol. 6 118. 1 Dec. 2014, doi:10.12703/P6-118
- Lin MW, Wu MH. The role of vitamin D in polycystic ovary syndrome. Indian J Med Res. 2015;142(3):238-240. doi:10.4103/0971-5916.166527
- Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356:i6583. Published 2017 Feb 15. doi:10.1136/bmj.i6583
- van Ballegooijen AJ, Pilz S, Tomaschitz A, Grübler MR, Verheyen N. The Synergistic Interplay between Vitamins D and K for Bone and Cardiovascular Health: A Narrative Review. Int J Endocrinol. 2017;2017:7454376. doi:10.1155/2017/7454376
- Naeem Z. Vitamin d deficiency- an ignored epidemic. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2010;4(1):V-VI.