A few months back I was at a routine check at the hospital where they were working on diagnosing my PCOS. Here I got a lot of blood work done and one of the tests they ran was my vitamin D levels. The answer was scary – and here is why…
(Friendly warning: This is a long post – I hope you will forgive me and read it anyway…)
DISCLAIMER! I am NOT a doctor - I am NOT medically trained! You should ALWAYS ask your personal doctor for advice before experimenting with any supplements. Vitamin D is a vitamin you CAN get to much of - so do NOT take it lightly!
At the following consultation my doctor told me that they had measured my level of vitamin D, and that mine was (I quote) “slightly low”. Now I don’t know what the measurement is for this, but here is what he told me: The normal level (in Denmark) is 30…. My level was 15!!
Today I was reading up on some Danish studies on vitamins (when the doctors give up on you, self-education is the way!) and I read that the recommended vitamin D level ( a level of 30) in Denmark is based on an average of the Danish population – NOT on what is actually healthy for the body!!!!
Mind you, Denmark is located in the North and we are only exposed to direct, vitamin D creating sunlight from April-September and are generally known for having lower levels of vitamin D than people populating countries closer to the equator.
Vitamin D is only stored in the body for 1-3 months – meaning that from October/November and until March the Danish people are not getting the vitamin D they need unless they get it from supplements.
Normal vs. optimal…
Now the study went on to explain that there is a difference between the recommended “normal” (Danish!) level and the optimal level of vitamin D in the body. Actually it is a very big difference!
Where the recommended level in Denmark is 30 – the optimal level (according to this study) is between 90 and 100!!!! And several so-called lifestyle illnesses can be linked to low levels of vitamin D – including some of the symptoms of PCOS!
So this got me thinking. I needed to know more about this “sunshine” vitamin and what the lack of it is doing to my body!
What is vitamin D and how do we get it naturally?
First of all – a vitamin is an organic matter that needs to be obtained through e.g. food into the body, because we cannot make it ourselves.
Given that the body IS in fact capable of making vitamin D in the skin when exposed to sunlight, it would be more correct to call it a provitamin (a substance the body can convert to a vitamin) than a vitamin.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, which means that it cannot be dissolved in water and is excreted from the body through the urine. It can, however, be stored in the body’s fat depots – and if it is taken in very large quantities it can cause a toxic state in the body. (The same goes for vitamin K, E and A)
Apart from producing vitamin D in the skin when exposed to sunlight, it can be naturally obtained from our food.
Eggs are a fine source of vitamin D, as are certain types of fish (e.g. sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon). It can also be found in dairy products, meats and fats (oil and butter).
Given that vitamin D is fat-soluble it should be consumed along with meals that contain good fats in order to be best obtained in the body. Unlike most other vitamins, vitamin D is not broken down by boiling and frying but by exposure to light.
What are symptoms of low vitamin D levels?
There are a number of symptoms you should pay attention to if you think you are lacking vitamin D.
I have tried to comprise a list of symptoms down below (some are well know, others are based on newer research and are still being debated), and I have marked those I have experienced myself with a *.
As you might notice, some of them coincide with some of the symptoms of PCOS.
- Deterioration of teeth *
- Deformation of the bones (osteoporosis)
- Breakage of calcium deprived, fragile bones
- Being tired all the time (maybe with a slight energy boost in the evening) *
- Trouble sleeping (waking up many times during the night) *
- Weakness of the muscles *
- Mood swings *
- Depression and/or anxiety (*)
- Type 1 and 2 diabetes (recent studies have shown this – it is still debated!)
- Increased autoimmune activity
- Insulin deficiency (*)
- A number of neurological illnesses (according to newer research – it is still debated!)
- Tendency of inflammations
- Development of allergies (in children and adolescents)
- A tendency of getting the flu
What are the symptoms of too high levels of vitamin D?
Excessive intakes of vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia).
The symptoms of hypercalcemia are:
- Loss of appetite
- And development of painful calcium deposits
Other symptoms of too high levels can be:
IF YOU ARE PREGNANT YOU SHOULD BE EXTRA CAREFUL, AS TOO HIGH LEVELS OF VITAMIN D CAN CAUSE TOO HIGH LEVELS OF CALCIUM, WHICH CAN IN TURN CAUSE DAMAGE TO YOUR UNBORN’s HEART!
To avoid the above mentioned risk of too high levels of vitamin D, it is recommended to stay below the tolerable upper limits for vitamin D, which is set as the most that a person can safely consume.
In 2010 a report from the Institute of Medicine (USA) set the following tolerable upper limits for vitamin D:
- 1,000 IU/day for infants 0 to 6 months of age
- 1,500 IU/day for infants 6 to 12 months of age
- 2,500 IU/day for 1 to 3 years of age
- 3,000 IU/day for 4 to 8 years of age
- 4,000 IU/day for 9 years of age and older
- 4,000 IU/day for pregnant and lactating women
The BIG confusion: “How much vitamin D should you have a day?”
Now this is where I – as a regular mortal – get confused!
There are so many different recommendations on this that I do not feel like I can give you a straight answer on this…
Here in Denmark the recommendation on daily intake is very low compared to the one in Finland and the US…
All newer research I can find, describes this dilemma as well, saying that daily recommendations are still being discussed and that deciding how much is too much, is a highly controversial topic still. The arguments against the tolerable upper limits for vitamin D come from the fact that you can get 10,000 to 25,000 IU from exposure to the sun in one day.
I have talked to my doctor and a nutritional therapist about this… They do not quite agree!
What they do agree on though is that too much vitamin D is really bad also!
While my doctor suggested that I take a low amount of supplement (1000 IU) every day (aiming for a vitamin D level of 30), the nutritional therapist told me it was important to get a larger amount of supplement (4000 IU) every day until my vitamin D levels are considerably higher than they are now (aiming for a vitamin D level of 90-100).
(Remember mine is 15 where it should be around 100)
Given that newer research on this topic and daily recommendations from other countries seem to support the latter, I am going to be taking a daily supplement for 2 weeks of 4000 IU and then see how I feel.
I am going to stop right away should I feel any of the symptoms that point to an overdose of vitamin D!
During the next two weeks I will be keeping an eye on the symptoms I have that are due to the low levels of vitamin D in my body to see if there is any change in these. I have told my doctor this and we have an agreement that I will be keeping him in the loop the entire time so he can follow and monitor my development on this.
As always I will recommend that you talk to your doctor, a nutritional therapist or the likes and listen to what they have to say!! Remember, please, that I AM NOT MEDICALLY TRAINED!
Wow…. You are still here!!!
This became a longer post than I had planned. But talking about medical and nutritional stuff always seem to take up more room….
I hope that this can help some of you out there who are – like me – struggling with PCOS and low levels of vitamin D. At least this can serve as some food for thought! The fact that I was tested at the PCOS clinic for my vitamin D levels specifically, tells me that there is a link between the two. As you can see some of the symptoms of low levels of vitamin D and PCOS are the same, so I am thinking that getting my vitamin D levels in order might just be part of getting on the right track with my PCOS…
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