At the same time as thanking our lucky stars for the best UK summer since 1976, we can also use this opportunity to obtain a safe and sensible dose of sunlight for our skin to do its magic and convert the sun’s rays to Vitamin D.
We already knew that Vitamin D was essential for healthy teeth and bones but now it has been found to be particularly useful for women wishing to conceive in the near future. Vitamin D or 25-hydroxyvitamin D, to give it its correct name, has been shown in a recent study to be potentially beneficial in increasing the chances of pregnancy and having a live birth.
The study in The Lancet found that normal Vitamin D levels before conception, increased the likelihood of a live birth. Crucially, the study also found that high Vitamin D levels before conception decreased the risk of pregnancy loss. What constitutes the “optimal” Vitamin D to reduce the risk of pregnancy loss, which includes miscarriage, is still up for debate; but this is positive news in the ongoing quest to improve our understanding of the multiple factors associated with miscarriage and pregnancy loss. For women struggling to conceive, this latest piece of research is another step in the right direction to reduce the often-devastating effects of infertility and miscarriage.
The role of Vitamin D in fertility does not end there. Vitamin D has long been suspected to have a positive role in supporting female fertility treatment as well as improving male sperm count. It is thought to help balance female hormones and it also supports womb implantation of the early embryo. Where up to 70% of women seeking fertility treatment have been found to be deficient in Vitamin D, the advice to couples trying to have a baby is to first check and correct their Vitamin D levels before embarking on expensive fertility treatment.
So what are normal levels of Vitamin D? Adequate Vitamin D levels are said to be between 20ng/mL and 50ng/mL. Anything less than 12ng/mL is deficient. Deficiency normally presents with non-specific symptoms that are often overlooked or blamed on something else, such that Vitamin D deficiency is frequently missed. According to Public Health England, one in five of us are deficient of this vitamin and this cuts across all skin colours and ethnicities. Whilst 20 - 30 minutes of daily sunlight during the spring and summer months is enough to replenish our stores, it would seem until now, the sunny days on our island were just not enough!
Women hoping to boost their fertility chances can get a natural supply of Vitamin D, through a diet of oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines as well as mushrooms and egg yolks. The problem is that so many of us are deficient in the UK despite healthy diets and the odd sunny day, so the advice from Public Health England is for people to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms. This is enough to maintain Vitamin D stores - particularly during the winter months when the sun is in short supply and quite frankly, we would much rather be inside by the central heating. Before taking supplements, it is important to first check to see if you are deficient which you can do with your GP.
For gynaecologists such as myself trying to reduce the negative impact of miscarriage and infertility, this study provides us with the hope that one day, through informed knowledge and tailored treatment, we will finally be able to prevent women and couples from experiencing the pain of infertility and pregnancy loss.