Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D after spending time in the sun, but at least half of the United States population may still be low in vitamin D.

One of the chief roles of vitamin D is to help absorb and metabolize essential minerals calcium and phosphorus, and to build strong bones. Receding gums and tooth loss have been found to be a side effect of vitamin D deficiency. The vitamin is also crucial for normal muscle function, and a lack of vitamin D can affect your balance and increase the risk of falling. You can often improve blood sugar control by correcting a vitamin D deficiency.

Someone with fair skin usually needs only about 10 minutes of daily direct sun exposure year round to get sufficient amounts of the vitamin. Those with dark skin, or who are unable to get adequate sun exposure, may need to take a supplement containing vitamin D. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for vitamin D is a minimum of 600 International Units (IUs) per day for adults between 51 and 70 yearsold and 800 IUs in adults over 70.

There are few food sources that contain vitamin D. Milk is fortified with vitamin D but has only 100 IU per cup. There is a risk of skin cancer with excess and prolonged exposure to the sun, but low vitamin D levels are also associated with increased risk of the skin cancer melanoma. When considering a vitamin D supplement most people would benefit from additional calcium and magnesium.

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