The Healing Sun by Richard Hobday presents evidence showing an increase in disease with a decrease in sunlight exposure. This article discusses: Rickets and Osteomalacia — The ‘Diseases of Darkness’
How Sunlight Can Prevent Serious Health Problems
by Richard Hobday, taken from his book, The Healing Sun
Rickets and Osteomalacia — The ‘Diseases of Darkness’
There are several diseases which are traditionally associated with sunlight deprivation but the most widely known is called rickets. This used to be a very common condition in this country and, although medical textbooks refer to rickets as a dietary-deficiency disease caused by a lack of vitamin D, it was actually caused by air-pollution blocking out the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the bulk of the urban population in Europe and North America lived in overcrowded insanitary slums, with narrow, sunless alleyways and dark courtyards. As the Industrial Revolution got under way, and in the years that followed, these slums were covered in a permanent pall of smoke produced by the burning of coal in homes and factories. One of the constituents of this smog was sulphur dioxide, a gas which causes respiratory problems and acid rain. Sulphate particles can also form a persistent layer of acid haze which reflects ultraviolet radiation at the very wavelengths that are needed to synthesize vitamin D in the skin. So, thanks to a combination of bad housing and air pollution there were few opportunities for children to get enough sunshine. Not surprisingly, rickets was endemic at this time and became known as the ‘English Disease’.
Children living in these inner-city areas who had severe rickets suffered from bone deformities and muscle weakness. Their bones softened with the result that there was an outward curvature of their legs and a curvature of the spine. Their teeth were late coming through and often fell out. This softening, weakening and demineralisation of the bones also affected adults, in whom the condition is referred to as osteomalacia. Although rickets was rarely fatal in itself, it resulted in high rates of infant and maternal deaths: women who had developed the disease in childhood often had deformities of the pelvis which made childbirth very hazardous.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were towns and cities in which more than 80 per cent of the children were affected by rickets, irrespective of social class, and there was still a great deal of confusion as to the cause. Some said it was lack of exercise; others that it was an infectious disease. Two other popular theories were that it was the result of a poor diet, or that it was caused by lack of fresh air and sunlight. Research into the causes of the disease followed two distinct paths. In 1918, scientists discovered that rickets could be cured in animals by feeding them cod-liver oil, which contains high levels of vitamin D. Having shown that vitamin D could cure rickets, it was assumed that it was a diseasecaused by vitamin deficiency; and subsequent studies by nutritionists reinforced the view that diet and vitamin D were the most important factors. Yet, at the same time, it finally became clear to scientists and physicians that rickets develops when people are deprived of sunlight, a fact which had largely been ignored in spite of strong scientific and circumstantial evidence.
Although it was known that sunlight could cure or prevent this crippling bone disease, few physicians in the 19th century were prepared to accept that something so simple as sunbathing could be an effective remedy. Indeed, to this day, it is still widely held that rickets is a disease of bad diet rather than lack of sunlight. Contrary to popular belief, and much conventional medical thinking, rickets and osteomalacia are diseases of darkness and not diet. Providing you get sufficient exposure to the sun, a diet lacking in vitamin D will not cause these diseases.
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