Are You Missing This Essential Fertility Nutrient?
You probably already know that the right food and lifestyle choices can play a huge part in prepping your body for pregnancy. In fact, even if you’re not ready to become a mom right now—but think you might want to have a baby in the future—it’s important to start taking the right steps to make sure you’re optimizing your fertility. After all, you want to ensure your reproductive environment is the strongest and healthiest it can possibly be down the line.
But as a hormone expert and health coach, I find that many women—even the most well-informed health junkies—often don't know they’re lacking an essential fertility nutrient: vitamin D.
It's an underappreciated nutrient that's actually a hormone. Vitamin D3, the recommended form, is made from your skin's exposure to the sun. So even if you’re eating a super-healthy diet full of organic greens and whole grains, you may still be deficient in D3. That’s because most foods—fortified or not—don’t have therapeutic levels of this nutrient.
Studies suggest that as many as 93 percent of women dealing with infertility issues are vitamin D3 deficient. It’s also been estimated that most women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have this deficiency. Plus, some research has shown that women who have the highest levels of vitamin D are more likely to conceive via IVF than women with low levels.
The core issue here, from a hormonal health standpoint, is that a low concentration of vitamin D can cause estrogen dominance, a hormonal imbalance that contributes to a whole range of reproductive health problems for women.
I believe vitamin D deficiency to be at epidemic levels, and I consider it the root of many women’s struggles with fertility and health.
Here are a few ways vitamin D can support fertility:
- It helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Unbalanced blood sugar contributes to whether or not you ovulate every cycle.
- It supports the body’s immune response. Many fertility issues have autoimmune disturbances at their core; vitamin D helps your body not attack itself.
- It supports a healthy gut microbiome and vaginal microbiome. Balanced bacteria in both the gut and vagina could be associated with improved chances of conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy.
- There are vitamin D receptors in your female reproductive organs. This means the entire reproductive system requires vitamin D to function healthily.
- It's also important for your male partner.Research suggests it's vital for maintaining a high sperm count and sperm motility.
How to tell if you’re deficient:
As I mentioned before, if you struggle with infertility or PCOS, you could be deficient in vitamin D. Other signs of D deficiency include a diabetes diagnosis and any gut troubles from IBS to Crohn’s disease.
To test for vitamin D deficiency, ask your doctor to give you a 25(OH)D test (aka a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test). What's considered an optimal blood level might depend on the laboratory or your health care practitioner. Many recommend a level between 20 and 40 ng/ml; I consider the optimal level for vitamin D to be between 50 and 70 ng/ml.
If you find you do have a deficiency, don’t panic: You can improve this number with some simple modifications to your diet and lifestyle.
The best way to get more vitamin D:
Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” for good reason—sunshine is truly the best way for your body to obtain optimal levels of this vital nutrient.
I recommend spending 30 minutes in the sun every day. While it's still important to wear sunscreen most of the day to lower your risk of skin cancer and prevent damage, I recommend natural options that don't contain harmful chemicals.
Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get enough vitamin D3 through supplements alone. Still, as I don’t live in a very sunny area of the country and am breastfeeding, I currently take 5,000 IUs per day—but I also try to get outside as much as I can without wearing sunscreen.
Getting plenty of sun—along with avoiding nutrient-zapping diet choices like too much coffee, alcohol, or processed foods—should be sufficient to get your vitamin D levels in the healthy zone and keep your body and hormones happy.