Would You Prefer Rickets or Cancer

Mapping of several bone diseases onto levels o...
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Lack of Sunshine Causes Osteoporosis (Brittle Bones) Too

Another story today about the comeback of rickets.

That is the bone disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency. It was common in Victorian times but largely disappeared with improved nutrition.

As well as getting Vitamin D in your diet, your body makes it when it is exposed to sunshine.

Says the BBC:

A recent study in inner-city Birmingham found that almost one in two Asian women were vitamin D deficient.

The level was one in three in the wider Asian community, one in four in the black population and one in eight among Caucasians.

There are two causes for the rise in rickets in the UK.

The first is that black and asian people have dark skin and are protected from the sunshine that helps their bodies make the vitamin. In fact, that is why Caucasian people originally evolved fair skins. Our lack of skin pigment is a genetic adaptation to our low-sun northern environment, to allow us to make vitamin D even with low sunshine levels.

With the high levels of immigration over the last few decades, we have basically seen large numbers of people coming to the UK who do not have the genetic mutation that causes the Caucasian fair skin. Clearly they are at higher risk of getting rickets.

Notice the higher incidence among the asian community than among the black population too. That is because asians often wear clothes that cover up all their skin, as the BBC also notes.

The other factor, of course, is that people are obsessed with sun cream. When I was young, nobody used sun cream. I got sunburnt as a child many times. And so did everybody.

Then along came sun tan lotion – originally marketed to stop the painful sunburn. It was not long before it was being marketed as a protection from skin aging and skin cancer.

People started to use higher and higher factor lotions. When they first came out, most were factor 4, with perhaps factor 8 being regarded as a very high one.

Now the do-gooders jitter on about how you need to use at least factor 50 on children otherwise they will die a ghastly death later. What’s more, they must use it all the time, not just when they are on the beach. The letters about school trips never forget to mention that you should lather your children with sun block and make them wear hats.

There was more. Evidence started to appear that people who used sun tan lotion were actually more likely to get skin cancer, not less. How could that be?

It turned out that there are two kinds of ultraviolet light – UVA and UVB. One causes sun burn, while the other causes cancer. The sun tan lotions were blocking the sun burn type but letting in the cancer type. So people were not realising how much sun they were getting, because their lotions were stopping them getting sunburnt.

Sunburn is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been out in the sun too long.


The manufacturers were quick to change their formulations. Now sun tan lotion has a “star rating” for skin cancer protection as well as a factor rating for sunburn protection.

The BBC article is full of ideas about what we should do about the rickets issue.

Dr Jonathan Berg, director of pathology at City Hospital, Birmingham, says:

Screening in selected populations is currently the way forward.

A consultant paediatrician at Ealing’s hospital, Dr Colin Michie, says that:

The idea of screening is interesting but he argues that providing free vitamin D supplements for all pregnant women would be cheaper and easier.

A spokesman for the Department of Health says:

All pregnant women are advised to take Vitamin D supplements.

I have a better idea. Let’s stop running around like headless chickens about all the sun and get some simple messages across:

  1. Black people should not use sun cream. They are naturally protected and do not need it.
  2. White people should use moderate factor sun cream (say factor 8 ) moderately, i.e. for example use it on the beach but not when just going shopping.

Of course, that would represent different advice for different racial groups. Yikes. And it would be common sense as well.

No chance of that then.

There is more on this subject in the Independent.

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3 thoughts on “Would You Prefer Rickets or Cancer

    • I think free school milk counts as improved nutrition!

      Interestingly, cows’ milk is relatively low in vitamin D. It does have a lot of calcium though, obviously. (Vitamin D is needed for the digestion of calcium.) I believe that people, especially children, are drinking less milk nowadays, which obviously can have a detrimental effect. The reduction in milk consumption is yet again due to health scares of course, this time about saturated fat consumption.

      This ought to be all about common sense and moderation, but those words seem to get lost in among all the hype from “researchers” via politicians and the media.

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