A healthy dose of vitamin “sunshine” may be JUST what you need: body & soul.
8 months ago, I was running an average of 8 miles a week training for a half marathon and following a clean eating diet. For 2 years prior, I had successfully managed to lose 35# by working out 30 minutes a day and following a portion control and clean eating diet. Mind ya, I was NOT perfect…but consistency and perseverance got me to my goal weight. I felt great – strong and confident. I started running and enjoyed the comradery of the running community. I fell in love with the run and even completed my first ½ marathon. Last year, I decided to go for the ½ once again. I started training and continued with the plan that I had followed the year before. Only, this time…something was significantly different. I was struggling. My runs were much slower, I couldn’t breathe, and my knees were hurting, I was gaining weight, I was emotional, not sleeping well, and I was in a chronic state of soreness to the point of deep pain. I didn’t understand…I wasn’t doing anything different from what I had done the year before. My nutrition was the same and the training was the same. I struggled through the race in December and finished with a disappointing time more than 40 minutes slower than the previous year.
After the race, I took some time to recover by doing some low impact walking and Yoga workouts, but continued to follow the nutrition plan that I had been following for the past 2 years. I was growing more and more discouraged with my weight gain, but attributed it to Holiday indulging. In January, I went to GP for an annual wellness check. A very low pressure check led to blood work that revealed something significant. A Vitamin D deficiency!
What I’ve learned about adrenal fatigue, aging, hormones, vitamin deficiency over the last several months has been enlightening and has turned my health and fitness journey upside down. I dismissed my symptoms as ‘normal’ aging ailments and failed to take them as serious as I should have. It’s not “normal” to be in constant pain, to experience dizziness to the point of seeing stars when you stand up from a sitting position, and it’s not normal to gain #10 in 3 months with no significant changes in your diet…especially when you’re running several miles/week. So, I’m sharing this information in hopes of stirring in any other woman the importance in getting yourself checked out if you are experiencing similar symptoms.
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced by the body as a response to sun exposure; it can also be consumed in food or supplements. Despite the name, vitamin D is considered a pro-hormone and not actually a vitamin. Vitamins are nutrients that cannot be created by the body and must be taken in through our diet. Vitamin D; however, can be synthesized by our body when sunlight hits our skin.
Sensible sun exposure on bare skin for 5-10 minutes 2-3 times per week allows most people to produce sufficient vitamin D, but vitamin D breaks down quite quickly, meaning that stores can run low, especially in winter. A substantial percentage of the population is vitamin D deficient.
Vitamin D is best known for its role in supporting bone health and strengthening the immune system and is essential for maintaining the mineral balance within the body and has a much wider role to play in our overall health.
1) Vitamin D is vital for bone health. It plays a substantial role in the regulation of calcium and maintenance of phosphorus levels in the blood, which are extremely important for maintaining healthy bones. We need vitamin D to absorb calcium in the intestines and to reclaim calcium that would otherwise be excreted through the kidneys. Vitamin D deficiency manifests as osteomalacia (softening of the bones) or osteoporosis. Osteomalacia results in poor bone density and muscular weakness. Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease among post-menopausal women and older men.
2) Reduced risk of diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency is suggested as one of the contributing factors in the development of blood sugar imbalances. Inadequate vitamin D, may affect the release of insulin, reduce insulin-producing cell function and impair glucose metabolism in the body. Healthy insulin release is essential for the regulation of blood sugar levels in the body.
3) Regulating cell growth and for cell-to-cell communication. Some studies suggest that calcitriol (the hormonally active form of vitamin D) can reduce cancer progression by slowing the growth and development of new blood vessels in cancerous tissue, increasing cancer cell death, and reducing cell proliferation and metastases. Vitamin D influences more than 200 human genes, which could be impaired when we do not have enough vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the development of certain cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
4) Regulating depressed mood. Increasingly research is finding a possible link between vitamin D and its effect on neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which has a large influence on our mood, sleep, stress and overall well-being. Increased vitamin D levels can be effective in helping to manage symptoms of depression, and there is also a suggested link between reduced sunlight exposure during winter and the development of the ‘winter blues’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include:
- getting sick often
- painful bones and back
- depressed mood
- impaired wound healing
- hair loss
- muscle pain
If Vitamin D deficiency continues for long periods of time it can result in:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease
Our environment and lifestyle choices can affect your body’s ability to produce vitamin D. The majority of vitamin D is produced from exposure to adequate sunlight. People who avoid the sun by covering their skin, have a dark skin tone, or have limited sun exposure in winter months, can be at greater risk of deficiency. The use of sunscreen reduce the body’s ability to absorb the ultraviolet radiation B (UVB) rays from the sun needed to produce vitamin D. A sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 can reduce the body’s ability to synthesize the vitamin by 95 percent. To start vitamin D production, the skin has to be directly exposed to sunlight, not covered by clothing. Although vitamin D supplements can be taken, it is best to obtain any vitamin or mineral through natural sources wherever possible.
Increasing outdoor activities and exposing your skin to unprotected sunlight are helpful ways to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D. It is important, especially during summer, to be very careful when exposing our skin to the sun and for only short periods to avoid sunburn. Before 10 AM and after 4 PM are safer, when UV conditions are lower. Supplementing your diet with vitamin D can also be a convenient and easy way to ensure you are consistently getting the required daily dose of vitamin D, especially during the winter months.
Since being diagnosed, I have been put on a heavy dose of prescribed Vitamin D supplementation. I continue to follow up with my GP for blood work to include liver function, blood pressure checks, etc. I’m beginning to feel better. My sleep has improved, my moods have improved, and I’m no longer in constant pain, and I’m no longer seeing stars when I stand up. I continue to explore a nutrition and exercise program that compliments hormonal issues that I face as a premenopausal woman at 47.
The take away is…you know your body better than anyone else. You know when something is not right. Stop second guessing yourself and get yourself checked out. Be your own best advocate and be proactive. Feel better, look better, be BETTER.