Can sunshine cure menopause? Well, not quite. But vitamin D – known as the ‘sunshine-hormone’- offers numerous benefits for women experiencing menopause, and those with low vitamin D levels may experience more severe menopausal symptoms.
We Aussies are known for our sun-loving culture, so you may be surprised to know that 58% of Australians are vitamin D deficient. Thankfully, fixing your vitamin D deficiency is simple. You can boost your vitamin D levels naturally through diet and lifestyle changes, or through using supplements. By ensuring you have an adequate amount of vitamin D in your blood, you can reduce menopausal symptoms and prevent a range of health problems.
As you can see, vitamin D may be your secret weapon for managing menopause symptoms, as well as maintaining overall health. But, what exactly is vitamin D and how can you get more of it?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, though it functions more like a hormone than a vitamin. It enhances absorption of iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and phosphate in your digestive tract, and maintains blood levels of calcium and phosphate. Essential compounds in this group are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. You can get these vitamins from supplements and vitamin D rich foods. Your body can also create vitamin D3 from cholesterol in the skin when you get enough sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiency in menopause
Through regular blood tests, the Australian Menopause Centre found that most menopausal women are deficient in vitamin D. And it’s not just important for managing irritating symptoms; vitamin D also plays a role in protecting you from potentially devastating health problems. Those with low vitamin D levels have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, reduced cognitive function and osteoporosis.
Other health problems associated with low vitamin D levels include:
- bone, joint, and back pain
- muscle weakness and pain
- multiple sclerosis
- glucose intolerance
- weight gain
- cognitive impairment
- mood swings
- poor wound healing
- hair and bone loss
- bone fracture
- Alzheimer’s disease
- cardiovascular disease
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- chronic or extreme fatigue and tiredness
- illness or infections due to low immunity.
How to get more Vitamin D
There are a range of options for increasing your vitamin D levels, either naturally or through the use of supplements. You might want to consider:
Taking Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D supplements come in the form of capsules or tablets, and they can be purchased at your local chemist or online. Only take supplements after consulting our GP, who can advise you as to the appropriate dosage. Your recommended dosage will depend on your deficiency state as well as a variety of personal factors such as your age. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, it is best consumed with a meal that includes some healthy fats (such as oil, fish or avocado).
Using mouth sprays with Vitamin D
If you want the benefits of vitamin D supplements but don’t like taking pills, underneath-the-tongue (sublingual)sprays that contain vitamin D are a great alternative.
Eating Vitamin D-rich foods
Eating foods which are rich in vitamin D are a great way to naturally improve menopause symptoms. Foods that are high in vitamin D include:
- Maitake mushrooms – A cup of diced maitake mushrooms has over 700 IUs of vitamin D.
- UV-exposed portabella mushrooms – A whole UV-exposed portabella mushroom has around 375 IUs.
- Chanterelle mushrooms – A cup of chanterelle mushrooms has over 100 IUs.
- Halibut – An 85g serving of halibut has around 200 IUs.
- Salmon – An 85g of fresh pink salmon has 370 IUs and an 85g of canned sockeye salmon has almost 800 IUs.
- Trout – An 85g of rainbow trout has around 650 IUs.
- Canned tuna – An 85g serving of canned tuna has around 40 IUs, so each can has around 80 IUs.
- Fortified breakfast cereal – A cup of dry whole grain cereal fortified with vitamin D has around 100 IUs.
- Milk – A cup of milk has around 125 IUs.
- Fortified milk alternatives – This includes soy milk and almond milk fortified with vitamin D.
- Eggs – Each egg yolk has around 40 IUs.
Other foods rich in vitamin D are sardines, shiitake mushrooms, beef liver, oysters, caviar, and juice fortified with vitamin D.
Getting enough sunlight
Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. Ideally, you should spend around 15-30 minutes a day in the sun before applying sunscreen in order to absorb an adequate amount of vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays. During the winter months or when the sun is hidden behind the clouds, you could spend more than half an hour a day outside to get enough vitamin D. Be wary of over exposure to the sun, and ensure you get regular mole checks to manage the risk of skin cancer caused by sun exposure.
The health benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D offers an amazing range of health benefits. It protects against depletion of serotonin, a compound that helps regulate your body temperature. This means vitamin D can reduce hot flushes and alleviate night sweats. As well as this, serotonin is crucial for improved moods and motivation.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from your diet, so it’s essential for building strong bones, reducing hip fractures, and preventing osteoporosis. Oestrogen and progesterone can also improve bone health, so combining bio-identical hormone replacement therapy with vitamin D supplements is the best way to improve bone health. Oestrogen also plays a role in activating vitamin D. Oestrogen deficiency in menopause can encourage vitamin D deficiency, exacerbating symptoms such as loss of bone mass, so ensuring adequate levels of both oestrogen and vitamin D is the best way to reduce symptoms.
Vitamin D also prevents colon, breast and skin cancer, and has a positive effect on low mood and cognitive performance. Vitamin D can also help your body use insulin and prevent diabetes, as well as lower blood pressure readings for people who have hypertension (high blood pressure).
Vitamin D can improve certain diseases and symptoms related to menopause, such as:
- glucose intolerance
- multiple sclerosis
- heart disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- muscle weakness
- celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases
- fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
- chronic pain
- asthma and allergies.
Vitamin D testing and dosage
Wondering if you have low vitamin D levels? The next step is to see your doctor and have a blood test done. If you do have vitamin D deficiency, your GP can advise you as to the type of vitamin D supplement that is best suited to your needs, and what dosage to take.
Most health experts recommend a daily intake of 600 IUs. It’s important not to exceed the recommended dose prescribed by your doctor. Excess vitamin D may be stored in the liver, and this can lead to adverse health effects. Ideally, you should aim to get sufficient vitamin D from food sources, and only use tablets to supplement your diet. However, getting enough vitamin D from diet alone can be difficult, so supplementing with tablets is a great solution for many people.
Why you need Vitamin D during menopause
As you enter menopause, prevention is your best defence against age-related diseases and health conditions, such as osteoporosis. Vitamin D, combined with hormone therapy and weight bearing exercise is an effective way to prevent these conditions. Vitamin D is also a great tool to reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats, and improve your mood and cognitive performance, helping you stay strong, healthy, and positive.
At the Australian Menopause Centre, a weekly dose of vitamin D is prescribed to patients and monitored closely to ensure it is being absorbed and leading to a measurable increase in vitamin D levels in the blood. If you have vitamin D deficiency and are experiencing unpleasant symptoms of menopause, call us now on 1300 883 405 or book your free consultation. We’ll be happy to help you get the relief you need.