Monday, December 5, 2011

Vitamin D- Its not just about fertility : Part I

Nothing fascinates me more than the workings of the human body. How it evolved to be what it is today is mindboggling. Nature is pretty darned amazing in utilization of resources- while designing an intricate system, you need multitasking. Vitamin D (which is a hormone, not a vitamin) is the ultimate multitasker. Its receptor is almost universally expressed on every tissue in the body. It is strongly involved in regulation of the immune system, the brain, the kidneys, your thyroid gland, bone development, your metabolic pathways, the list is endless.

When you look at evolution, you realize nothing ever happens without a purpose. Nature plugged vitamin D as an important regulator/processor into so many pathways, she also realized you need a good system to make it, wherein you would not be dependent on external sources for it.  So it came about that every time you go into the sun, you made vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also one of the two things (the other is folate) that has probably governed the evolution of skin color. Life probably originated in Africa, and the intense levels of sunlight there destroyed folate (so tanning beds are a bad idea during pregnancy:)). So dark skin evolved, to protect folate. Although this acted as a barrier in the production of Vitamin D, the ample sunlight there created a harmonious balance. When people migrated to colder climates, with weak sunlight and long months of winter, they were making far too little of an important metabolite. This was probably the driving force behind evolution of light skin.

But we started to change. Not only we migrate far away from the places that we were designed for, but we started wearing clothes. That did not cause that much damage IMO, still because 200 year ago, people were still spending plenty of time outside, they walked places or they rode on horseback in good weather, they got out a lot because they did not have so much to do indoors.

In the past 30-40 years, our bad habits have really piled up. We've also let go of some of the old ways of life. In India, a common practice would be to give babies an oil massage and then let them sleep in the sun, fully naked,  for a little while. I asked my mom about this the other day, probably nobody in the cities, with our new lifestyles, does it anymore. We built big buildings with far too few windows where we spend the day, we invented cars so you spend very little time outdoors getting from point A to point B, we invented video games that kids stay indoors playing all day, and probably the worst offence, we started using sunblock by the bucketload, which almost totally blocks vitamin D production. We are literally, in the worst cases, almost completely shutting down our Vitamin D3 supply route. We did start supplying it in our diet, but the amounts were not high enough.

We messed with what nature intended. And what the research shows is, some of us have been paying for it in ways we are just starting to understand. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to Type I diabetes, Type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders, bone deformities, fibromyalgia, depression, chronic pain syndromes, autism (!!!), PCOS, obesity--the list goes on and on and on.

Importantly, other than a lack of time spent in the sun, the two other big risk factors for vitamin D3 deficiency is dark skin and obesity- this website talks about the latter.

I'm going to post a comprehensive list of what diseases its involved in a while- but in the meantime, it is bloody important to be vitamin D3 replete during pregnancy. This website does a good job talking about it.

I totally believe the theory proposed herein of a maternal vitamin D3 deficiency 'imprinting' the baby so he/she has a much higher risk for other diseases later in life. Please spread the word- post it to Stirrup Queens, talk about it on facebook, tweet it, whatever. We don't know what the end result will be of any woman being Vitamin D3 deficient during pregnancy (a lot of times, the effect is probably minor), but if you can prevent even one child from developing asthma, schizophrenia, diabetes or autism later in life, its worth it.


  1. This is important information for people to have. With one caveat: those of us with very pale skin are more prone to skin cancer. I wish I had used more sun screen as a teenager, as I might not have gotten melanoma. That early sun exposure didn't keep me from low vit D levels as an adult (I have corrected it with supplements).

    Thanks for evangelizing this important issue.

  2. Right on par with Jem. Awesome post, but sunscreen is my advocate as a melanoma survivor. Its just such a frustrating "damned if you do, damned if you don't" proposition between D3 deficiency and skin cancer.  I take 5000iu per day while pregnant or not these days which I always knew was the thing to do but I never realized just how detrimental a deficiency could be until I read this post and the links.  Again, Jay, thank you!

  3. You are welcome.  Whatever vitamin D you build up though, I believe the turnover is pretty darned fast. Whatever you make now, though sun exposure or get via supplements will be gone in a few months and you need to make more.

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