Pregnant woman lying on grass.
Pregnant woman lying on grass. moodboard

Could sunlight boost your fertility?

LIVING NATURALLY with Olwen Anderson

AS YOU probably know (if you paid attention during school geography lessons), folk living in the Northern American and European continents don't get to enjoy as much sunlight as we do.

They have bitterly cold winters where it's dark even before the working day ends. No-one spends too much time outside from day to day, and when they do, as little skin as possible is exposed to the ice and snow.

Researchers studying fertility of women in areas with these long winters have noticed an interesting trend: a spike in conception rates during summer. Coincidentally, this is when everyone gets more sun exposure.

Blood tests confirmed that the vitamin D levels of women rose during summer and dipped during winter. Could vitamin D be responsible for boosting their fertility?

Of all the nutrients, vitamin D is a curious one. We can get a little from food (greens, mushrooms, fish fat, cod liver oil) as vitamin D2, but mostly we soak it up through our skin as vitamin D3. Cholesterol carries the vitamin molecule through our liver and kidneys so each can play their part in converting vitamin D from UV radiation to become a powerfully active vitamin that is a major player in building bones. Researchers have learnt it isn't just our bones that utilise vitamin D; cells on the ovaries, on the placenta and endometrium (lining of the uterus) also present receptors seeking vitamin D, indicating they need this vitamin to function properly.

Curiously, the research done so far around vitamin D and fertility is quite, well, "messy” (to use an unscientific term). There are plenty of studies, but each have utilised different supplement quantities and sometimes with not enough subjects to reach statistically sound conclusions. Review studies (where all the studies are assessed together) invariably comment that they can't be sure whether vitamin D affects fertility because the science isn't strong enough. But at the same time they point to those observations of women's fertility in the far northern latitudes.

So if you want to know, definitely, that vitamin D boosts fertility, you'll have to wait while the science develops further.

But in the meantime, if your desire is to conceive a baby, focus on considering how much sunlight you are exposed to, whether your workplace has windows, whether you get outside to exercise, and whether your vitamin D levels are sufficient for pregnancy.

* Olwen Anderson is a naturopath and counsellor. You can contact her at www.olwenanderson.com.au



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