Vitamin C has been hogging the spotlight for many years as one of the mighty guards of our immune system — but its lesser known sidekick –Vitamin D has catapulted into mainstream health conversation in recent years.

To be more precise, the deficiency in Vitamin D has become a worldwide issue, especially among the elderly although it remains common in both kids and adults. In fact, it has reached such proportions that global food retailers are increasingly fortifying their products with Vitamin D with Marks & Spencer recently deciding to add the nutrient to its bread.

Vitamin D, nicknamed the ‘sunshine vitamin’, because it’s naturally created when your skin is exposed to – take a guess –  sunlight, is well-known for its role in sustaining healthy bones and teeth.

You’re probably thinking, ‘but the Philippines is super sunny and hot, there’s no way I’m Vitamin D deficient!’

While that may be a fair point, the deficiency is actually more widespread than once thought.

Here’s a startling fact : as many as three out of five Filipinos office workers are Vitamin D deficient, according to the Philippine College of Occupational Medicines.

Its been dubbed a ‘silent epidemic’ and is common in individuals that feel fairly healthy.

So how did a significant chunk of the population end up this way?

Genetics can be blamed. Races with darker skin tend to produce less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Another factor is simply spending long hours indoors perhaps due to work requirements. Also, the pervasive yet flawed mentality that only white skin is beautiful, contributes to many Filipinos literally shunning the sun.

Lucky for us in this sun-drenched archipelago, the best way to get Vitamin D is through adequate sun exposure. So go on, soak up the sun –  but make sure you’re catching those rays safely and sensibly. If sun exposure isn’t an option for you, Vitamin D can also be obtained through your diet although few foods contain the nutrient. Seafood options top the list – salmon, tuna, and cod liver oil are rich sources of the nutrient. For vegetarians, it can also be found in eggs and some mushrooms. If you don’t get a lot of sun and think you might be deficient, then it might be a good idea to see a doctor to get tested. You can also check whether you should start Vitamin D3 supplements, but its crucial to buy the right supplement.

Why Is Vitamin D Important?

Although Vitamin D is popularly known for helping prevent bone softening and diseases like rickets and osteoperosis, newer research suggests that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The nutrient is absolutely essential for optimal health.

“In the absence of it, you’re asking the body to defend itself with one hand tied behind its back,” Robert Heaney, Ph.D., professor of medicine at Creighton University in Nebraska said in an interview.

Low levels of the sunshine vitamin have been linked to numerous health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even depression.