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There are two things that people usually think of when they hear "vitamin D": first is summer sunshine and the second is strong bones. Sunshine because vitamin D can be made in the skin through exposure to UV light. Bones because it helps our bodies absorb calcium to build a strong skeleton. However, according to scientific research from the past few years, the role that vitamin D plays in our bodies goes far beyond bones. Vitamin D is a hormone that is produced in the skin in response to direct sunlight exposure; particularly UV-B rays. In the winter months it is extremely important to use a vitamin D supplement because there is zero production in the skin; the UV-B rays needed to make Vitamin D do not reach Canada at that time of year because of the angle of the earth in relation to the sun. The combination of this factor and an indoor lifestyle has resulted in chronically low levels of vitamin D within the Canadian population. Some estimates suggest that 70 to 97 per cent of Canadians have insufficient levels of this essential nutrient. Chronically low vitamin D levels in the population is thought to be one of the main culprits in the soaring rates of osteoporosis in Canada. More research over the past few decades has given vitamin D other reasons to shine. It has been linked to reductions in some types of cancer, shown improvements to the immune system and has even shown benefits for improving and maintaining good mental health. As such, a number of foods are Vitamin D fortified including milk, soy beverages and some orange juices. However, obtaining the recommended amount of Vitamin D from these sources would mean drinking two litres of fortified milk or soy beverage every day. There are few natural sources of vitamin D. Certain fish, like mackerel, provide some, or some mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight. But the actual amount found in these sources varies dramatically, making it hard to be sure you are getting enough. Supplementing with Vitamin D is almost universally recommended, particularly for those in greatest need, including infants and the elderly. There are many types of supplements available at different dosages and in different forms including tablets, capsules, or liquid drops. Speak with your health care practitioner about which is right for you and visit your local natural health retailer for more information. For a more in-depth discussion of Vitamin D, please click here.