If you’re a woman who’s been to the doctor lately, there’s a good chance you’ve been told you need to take a vitamin D supplement. Nearly half of all Americans (42 percent) are deficient in this essential nutrient, and among many demographics, including premenopausal women, those over age 65, and people with black and brown skin, that number is much higher. Now there’s another reason to make sure you’re getting enough, and it’s all about having a healthy gut — which is linked to a slew of amazing benefits.
A 2020 study published in Scientific Reports found that a group of 80 women taking vitamin D supplements showed a marked increase in the diversity of their gut microbiota after just 12 weeks. In other words, their gut health improved. Not sure why having a healthy gut is important? Keep reading, and you’ll be reaching for your vitamin D supplements by the time you’re done with this article.
Why Gut Health Matters
Your gut’s microbiome — that is, the trillions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses, and other microorganisms that inhabit your intestinal tract (gross, but also fascinating?) — has a huge impact on your daily well-being. Scientists are still discovering all the ways the microbiome affects us; it wasn’t even widely recognized to exist until the late 1990s, and now it seems like it’s in the news every day!
Basically, having a healthy gut means you’re going to feel better in every way. Sound like an exaggeration? It’s not. People with good gut health have stronger immune systems, absorb nutrients in their food better, suffer from less diarrhea, constipation, gas, cramping, bloating, and other intestinal discomforts, sleep better, and even live longer.
Pretty compelling, right? If taking vitamin D supplements can improve my gut health, and therefore increase my chances of living to 100 (gas and diarrhea-free, no less!), I’m in.
How much vitamin D do we need for a healthy gut?
Important disclaimer: The women in this study, who were initially deficient in vitamin D, took more vitamin D per day than is generally recommended, so you’ll definitely want to consult with your doctor before starting a new supplementation regimen based on its findings.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for women ages 19-70 is 15 micrograms, or 600 IU, per day. Women over 70 need 20 micrograms, or 800 IU per day, and taking more than 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) of vitamin D each day is beyond the “tolerable upper limit” set out by medical professionals.
That said, study participants were given 50,000 IU of vitamin D per week — or a little more than 7,000 IU each day. And while Vitamin D toxicity is rare, symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, confusion, apathy, excessive thirst and urination, and dehydration. It’s not something you want to take lightly! So again, please check with your health care provider before taking more than the recommended amount of vitamin D.
Alternative Sources of Vitamin D
Other great ways to get more vitamin D, besides taking supplements, include basking in the sun (without sunscreen!) for between five and 30 minutes twice a week, eating foods rich in vitamin D, such as salmon, sardines, eggs, and mushrooms, and drinking vitamin-D fortified orange juice.
Personally, I might stick with enjoying a mushroom omelette and washing my vitamin D supplement down with a glass of fortified OJ, rather than taking more than the recommended dose — but I’ll definitely bring this subject up at my next physical!