Vitamin D Deficiency: More Than Just a Lack of Supplements

Dr Agnes Ryu

In my practice, I often see vitamin D deficiencies in clients of all demographics – both men and women, young and old alike. This widespread vitamin D deficiency epidemic crosses age and sex boundaries. However, this issue extends beyond just a lack of supplements; it’s a sign of a lifestyle disconnected from nature.

Vitamin D, often misunderstood as just a vitamin, is actually a hormone with widespread effects on our body, influencing numerous genes. Its deficiency signifies not just a gap in our diet but a deeper disconnect with our natural environment, including insufficient sunlight exposure, too much indoor life, and exposure to artificial light.

Understanding Vitamin D

Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin under the cholesterol layer and further processed in the liver. It’s a unique hormone, considering its production is largely dependent on sunlight, specifically UVB rays. This process highlights the critical role of sun exposure in our overall health. Vitamin D’s impact on fertility, immunity, and general well-being cannot be overstated, with deficiencies linked to various health issues, including fertility problems.

The Sunlight as a Biological Cue

Contrary to popular belief, avoiding the sun can be harmful. Lack of adequate sunlight exposure can lead to Vitamin D deficiency, disrupting blood vessel response to sunlight, and potentially increasing the risk of certain cancers. Sunlight plays a pivotal role as a biological cue, integral to our well-being. Its daily cycles set our internal clocks, influencing circadian rhythms that govern everything from sleep patterns, digestion to hormone regulation and reproductive health. Our bodies are attuned to these solar cues, and disrupting this connection can lead to a myriad of health issues. While it’s important to avoid sunburn, the benefits of whole-body sun exposure far outweigh the risks when done responsibly. Embracing sunlight as a biological signal helps maintain the harmony of our bodily functions, underscoring the importance of aligning our lifestyles with these natural rhythms.

The Impact on Cellular Energy

Each cell in our body contains mitochondria, the powerhouses responsible for energy production. Sunlight, particularly infrared A light, is essential for the mitochondria to function effectively. A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to reduced mitochondrial function, impacting energy levels and overall health, including fertility.

Vitamin D, Melanin, Melanopsin, and Melatonin

The relationship between Vitamin D, melanin (the pigment in our skin), melanopsin (a photopigment found in the eye), and melatonin (the sleep hormone) is complex but crucial.

  • Melanin is the pigment that gives colour to skin, hair, and eyes. It serves an important biological function beyond just pigmentation. Melanin controls how much vitamin D the body can synthesize from sunlight. For example, those with very fair skin, like individuals of Irish descent, can produce adequate vitamin D with only 20 minutes of midday sun exposure. In contrast, black individuals have more protective melanin pigment acting as a natural sunscreen, so they require up to 2 hours in the sun daily to generate sufficient vitamin D. As someone of Korean background with medium skin tone, I likely need about an hour of sunlight to optimize my vitamin D levels. I’ve noticed living in London, UK at 51.5 degrees latitude, I’m more prone to vitamin D deficiency in winter than when I lived in Seoul, Korea at 38 degrees latitude. Those with darker complexions originating from lower latitudes should be especially vigilant about getting enough sun to avoid deficiency. Balancing sun exposure based on skin pigmentation is important for maintaining vitamin D sufficiency.
  • Melanopsin is a photopigment found in specialized cells in the retina of the eye. When melanopsin detects light, it sends signals to regulate circadian rhythms – our body’s internal clock. Melanopsin especially responds to blue wavelengths of light. Exposure to natural light each morning via the eyes’ central retinal pathways helps reset and synchronize circadian rhythms. However, excessive use of computer screens and artificial “junk” light in the evenings can disrupt these signals. As biological beings, we rely on light cues to keep our electrical rhythms aligned. Making an effort to watch the sunrise daily – even in the dark UK winters – helps boost melanopsin signaling. Outdoor light intensities are up to 100 times brighter than indoor lighting, even on cloudy days. Prioritizing natural light exposure supports healthy circadian function.
  • Melatonin is not just a sleep-regulating hormone produced by the pineal gland. It also serves as the body’s predominant antioxidant, helping replenish and rejuvenate the system. Melatonin plays numerous roles beyond sleep induction. For example, some fertility clinics utilize it to improve egg quality. It is also an important marker used to monitor breast cancer patients. Melatonin synthesis increases in darkness but decreases with excessive exposure to artificial light at night. Ensuring healthy circadian rhythms through natural light-dark cycles supports optimal melatonin production and its myriad benefits throughout the body. Melatonin production, stimulated by darkness, is affected by our exposure to natural and artificial light. Disruptions in these interlinked processes can impact sleep, mood, and hormonal balance, essential factors in fertility.

The Role of Vitamin D in Fertility

Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in reproductive health. It’s involved in the regulation of sex hormones and has been linked to improved outcomes in various fertility treatments. A deficiency in Vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications and has been connected to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility.

Addressing Vitamin D Deficiencies: Beyond Supplements

The epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency in recent decades can be traced back to significant shifts in public health messaging, particularly the campaigns against sun exposure and the promotion of low-fat, low-cholesterol diets. These shifts have inadvertently contributed to the widespread deficiency of this crucial hormone. Vitamin D, as a fat-soluble vitamin, requires adequate dietary fats for proper absorption. This highlights an often-overlooked aspect: the importance of a balanced diet rich in good fats to facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D.

Furthermore, it’s essential to understand the delicate balance among fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K. Excessive intake of Vitamin D, especially through supplements, can lead to imbalances if not complemented with appropriate levels of the other vitamins. This balance is critical for maintaining overall health and preventing issues related to disproportionate vitamin levels. Minerals like magnesium and zinc also facilitate vitamin D synthesis and function. Megadosing vitamin D supplements can create imbalances without the broader spectrum benefits of sunlight.

The fear of skin cancer and premature ageing led to a relentless campaign promoting sun avoidance and the use of sunscreens, many of which contain harmful chemicals. This approach has done a disservice to our skin’s natural ability to interact with sunlight. Regular, responsible exposure to the sun is necessary for our skin to respond correctly to sunlight, setting in motion the circadian rhythm and other vital physiological processes.

It is also crucial to acknowledge that while Vitamin D supplements can improve lab numbers, they cannot replicate the myriad benefits of natural sunlight. Sunlight exposure triggers a complex cascade of events in our body, from setting our biological clocks to initiating Vitamin D synthesis and regulating numerous other bodily functions. Supplements may offer a false sense of security, addressing only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Our Approach at Dr Ryu Natural Fertility Clinic

In conclusion, Vitamin D deficiency symbolizes a larger issue: our increasing detachment from natural light sources and losing the biological functions dependent on light cue and circadian rhythm. At Dr Ryu, we advocate for a holistic approach to fertility and overall health. This includes advising clients on the importance of regular sun exposure, right diet/nutrition and educating them on the risks of too much indoor life and exposure to artificial light. We believe in harnessing the power of natural light to improve health and fertility.

Dr Ryu’s articles:

The Truth About Sunscreen – Toxic Endocrine Disruptor

Cholesterol, the critical molecule for Fertility

Restoration of our body clock, the Circadian Rhythm

 

Agnes Ryu

Agnes Ryu

Dr. Ryu is a clinician and biochemist specializing in integrative medicine. Her clinical interests include fertility, hormones, metabolism, healthy ageing, menopause, and natural breast cancer care. As an integrative practitioner, Dr. Ryu aims to uncover the root causes of health issues and strives to empower patients with the knowledge and tools to take charge of their own health.

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