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Vitamin D for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects as many as 5% of women of reproductive age. New research suggests low levels of vitamin D may be a primary factor in the initiation and development of PCOS, and that dietary repletion of this important vitamin can help restore normal menstrual cycles in women with this condition.

Polycystic ovary syndrome refers to a constellation of symptoms among which the most prominent is multiple cysts on the ovaries, but which also includes a number of other health abnormalities including:

  • Anovulation (lack of ovulation)
  • Menstrual abnormalities
  • Higher than normal circulating androgens, especially testosterone
  • Hirsutism (increased facial hair)
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Acne
  • Insulin resistance and higher incidence of type 2 Diabetes
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Obesity
  • Low bone density

In this study, researchers examined a small group of patients with polycystic ovary syndrome and found that their vitamin D levels were low. Thirteen premenopausal women (mean age 31 +/- 7.9 years) with documented chronic anovulation and higher than normal levels of androgens were evaluated.

When these women were given vitamin D with calcium therapy in amounts adequate to restore normal vitamin D levels, in seven of the women, menstrual cycles normalized within 2 months. Two of the women became pregnant, and the other four patients maintained normal menstrual cycles. Researchers believe these data suggest that abnormalities in the metabolism of calcium - in which vitamin D plays a critical role - may be responsible, in part, for the arrested follicular development in women with polycystic ovary disease and may also contribute to the constellation of symptoms associated with PCOS.

Vitamin D, calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be made in the body after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, but, fortunately, it is also found in food. Exposure to sunlight varies dramatically with the season, latitude, time of day, cloud cover and smog. For example, in Boston the average amount of sunlight is insufficient to produce significant vitamin D synthesis in the skin from November through February. In addition, even in sunnier climates, sunscreens can effectively block exposure to the UV rays needed to trigger the synthesis of vitamin D. Sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 8 or greater will block UV rays that produce vitamin D. Even long-sleeved shirts and slacks that cover the majority of the skin significantly reduce its ability to produce vitamin D from sun exposure.

In addition to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, National Institutes of Health data links low levels of vitamin D to:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Syndrome X (insulin resistance)
  • Obesity
  • Cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and skin:
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Infertility and PMS
  • Fatigue, Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Autoimmune Disorders including Multiple Sclerosis, Sjogren's Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis and Crohn's disease

A wide variety of the World’s Healthiest Foods can ensure your intake of vitamin D is adequate no matter where you live or how much sun exposure you get. Among the World’s Healthiest Foods, excellent food sources of vitamin D include shrimp, vitamin-D fortified milk, and cod liver oil. Very good food sources of vitamin D include eggs and cod. Good food sources of vitamin D include halibut, snapper, and goat milk.

To learn more about any of these vitamin D-rich foods, including quick and easy cooking and serving ideas, simply click on the highlighted name of the food in the above list.

To learn more about this important mineral, click vitamin D.

For even more suggestions for ways to enjoy foods rich in vitamin D more frequently as part of your healthy way of eating, simply, click on the Recipe Assistant, select the foods for which you’d like some recipes from the Healthy Foods List, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World’s Healthiest Foods’ recipes containing the foods chosen will appear immediately below.

References: Thys-Jacobs S, Donovan D, Papadopoulos A, Sarrel P, Bilezikian JP. Vitamin D and calcium dysregulation in the polycystic ovarian syndrome. Steroids 1999 Jun;64(6):430-5. National Institutes of Health Vitamin D Document

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