Although, for many of us, summer may no longer mark the end of school and three blissful months of freedom, it does provide a universal benefit. During the summer months, we experience more daylight hours, which provides one greater opportunity to absorb vitamin D. This powerful substance has such a significant impact on the body that it is frequently included in the family of co-hormones rather than just a vitamin.
In recent years, research has reconfirmed that vitamin D benefits many areas of the body including, cell, bone, and muscle health. Furthermore, studies have found that vitamin D has notable influence on immune system and thyroid function. Because of this, it is frequently recommended that one spends 15 minutes to an hour out in the sun each day. This can easily be facilitated by numerous outdoor activities such as walking, napping, or even reading articles on thyroid wellness. Even if you have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune or thyroid condition it is greatly beneficial to understand why increased vitamin D intake and testing is being recommended by many medical practitioners.
What is Vitamin D Doing?
The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, has an impressive influence over multiple cellular functions. Cellular regulation and production of important substances such as enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters are all reliant on proper vitamin D levels. Furthermore, vitamin D is also necessary for proper thyroid function. This vitamin is used in the final metabolic process that allows hormones to function within the cell. If vitamin D is not present within the nucleus, thyroid hormone is not able to interact with the cell, thereby causing dysfunction throughout the body. Deficiency of vitamin D can cause a wide array of issues.
Possible symptoms and conditions associated with vitamin D deficiency include:
- Various cancers
- Thyroid issues
- Autoimmune disorders
- High blood pressure
- Adrenal fatigue
Vitamin D and Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder
One of the most important bodily regions affected by vitamin D is the immune system. If one is experiencing vitamin D deficiency, they are at increased risk of developing harmful autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Severe or extended periods of vitamin D deficiency can cause the system to become over-active and damage the thyroid. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, one’s own immune system attacks the thyroid causing irreparable damage that reduces its efficiency and productive ability. This can result in hypothyroidism, slowed metabolism, and hormonal imbalances. Those who are experiencing common symptoms of hypothyroidism and vitamin D deficiency such as fatigue, depression, aching bones, and recent weight gain may benefit from having their vitamin D levels tested.
The most common method for testing vitamin D levels is administering a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. This allows for an accurate interpretation of one’s current condition. Those who present reduced vitamin D levels in conjunction with increased thyroid antibodies are likely experiencing some degree of thyroid dysfunction. They may present symptoms of hypothyroidism such as weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, and infertility, while maintaining normal thyroid (euthyroid) levels.
Recent studies have found that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and vitamin D are closely associated with one another. In a Chinese study presented at the annual meeting of the American Thyroid Association in October of 2014, it was found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased TPO antibodies in autoimmune thyroid patients. This shows that insufficient vitamin D levels may be a significant contributor to autoimmune thyroid conditions. Of the 66 patients who partook in the study (34 had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and 32 had Grave’s disease) 82% had low levels of vitamin D.
The connection between Hashimoto’s and vitamin D deficiency was reinforced further by a 2011 study. The study in question focused solely on Hashimoto’s patients. Of the 161 participants, 92% of them had a vitamin D deficiency. Although these numbers are staggering as well as frightening, they well-exemplify the importance of vitamin D regarding autoimmune function.
Being aware of the impact of vitamin D deficiency on the body is helpful but it is not the primary goal. Avoiding deficiency and providing the body with adequate amounts of this powerful substance should be high on one’s list of summertime activities.
There are several situations, products, and activities that should be avoided to lower the risk of depleting one’s vitamin D reserves. The following list outlines some common contributors to vitamin D deficiency:
- Sunscreen that inhibits vitamin D production and absorption
- Washing off natural body oils needed for absorption prior to exposure to the sun
- Wearing excess clothing or not exposing one’s skin in the sun
- Poor weather due to location or time of year
- Chronic stress
- Environmental toxins such as pesticides and BPA’s
- Working indoors for extended periods
Alternatively, there are several ways to improve one’s vitamin D levels. Taking part in outdoor activities when the sun is shining bright can help improve one’s vitamin D absorption and intake. However, not all sunlight is created equal. Sunshine is composed of both UVA and UVB rays. UVB is beneficial in producing vitamin D whereas UVA can breakdown and destroy vitamin D. In addition to frolicking outside, consuming the following foods can boost one’s levels:
- Beef liver
- Sour cream
- Supplements (chewables, capsules, drops etc.)
Soaking Up Sun for Better Health
After reading about the various effects and benefits of vitamin D it is clear that maintaining an appropriate level is important. However, if one is reckless with supplementation, particularly if they have a thyroid condition, they risk further harm to their system. Always consult a physician before beginning supplementation with any substance. Even though there is some risk in overindulging in vitamin D, that should not keep one from pursuing optimization. Celebrate summer by spending some time outdoors to give your body the tools it needs to keep your thyroid and body healthy.