What are the benefits of vitamin D for women?

Written by michele turcotte, ms, rd
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What are the benefits of vitamin D for women?
Responsible sun exposure may offer health benefits for women. (rest on the beach image by Julia Britvich from Fotolia.com)

Researchers are still discovering all of the health benefits associated with vitamin D, sometimes referred to as the "sunshine" vitamin. It is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for human health and is the only vitamin that can be made by the human body from sun exposure. According to the National Health Service, women do not have to take supplements of the vitamin as enough can be obtained with daily sunshine exposure and a varied, healthy diet. Adequate vitamin D status is vital for women as it offers mental health benefits, is needed for maintaining strong bones and possibly reduces the risk of developing cancer.

Less depression

While many women feel mentally more refreshed and less depressed when exposed to sunshine, it may be due to more than just the warmth of the sun. Sun exposure stimulates the body's conversion of vitamin D into the active form of this vitamin, known as vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. Higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a better mood and less depression.

A study published in the "Journal of Internal Medicine" in December 2008 examined the relationship between blood levels of vitamin D or serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and depression in 441 overweight subjects and the effect of supplementation on depressive symptoms. They were divided and given supplemental vitamin D in doses of 20,000 to 50,000 IU weekly or a placebo for one year. The Beck Depression Inventory scale or BDI was used to measure depressive symptoms. More depressed subjects scored higher on this scale. The group given supplemental vitamin D showed great improvement in BDI scores after one year.

Healthy bones

Women are at a greater risk than men for bone loss or developing soft bones, making adequate vitamin D status extremely important. The minerals calcium and phosphorus, in addition to vitamin D, are important for building and maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D3, in conjunction with the parathyroid hormone, regulate calcium and phosphorus levels, keeping them in balance in the bones and bloodstream. Chronically low blood vitamin D levels causes the parathyroid hormone to become overactive, resulting in hyperparathyroidism. The body responds by dropping blood levels of phosphorus drop. Inadequate levels of phosphorus impair bone mineralisation. In addition, new bone cells absorb too much water and swell--causing a painful condition known as osteomalacia.

Cancer prevention

Women and men with lower levels of blood vitamin D levels may be at a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer. Results published in the "Annals of Epidemiology" in February 2009 pooled results from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, Nurses' Health Study and Physicians' Health Study, involving over 40,000 participants. Results indicated that within this population, those with the highest circulating blood levels of 25(OH) cholecalciferol had a significantly lower incidence of certain types of cancers--including colorectal and pancreatic cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer was 30 percent lower when comparing women from the Nurses' Health Study in the highest with the lowest quintiles of blood vitamin D levels.

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