(NaturalNews) The bone disease rickets, thought to be all but vanquished in the 1940s, is making a comeback in the United Kingdom, doctors have warned.
Rickets is a bone-softening disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. In severe cases, it can lead to deformities that can only be corrected with surgery, such as a bent spine or bowed legs. During the Industrial Revolution, rickets was widespread and was considered a disease of poverty.
The body produces at least 80 percent of its vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. The remainder can be acquired from the diet, as the vitamin naturally occurs in egg yolks, oily fish and liver. During the Industrial Revolution, poor diets and a permanent haze of smog around urban areas produced widespread deficiency. Rickets practically disappeared by the 1950s, after governments began fortifying many dairy and grain products with vitamin D.
But now vitamin D deficiency has become a sign of affluence. Children are spending more and more time indoors, and parents concerned about skin cancer are increasingly applying more and more powerful sunscreens to their kids before letting them go outside. As many as 70 percent of all British children may now suffer from vitamin D deficiency, and one in 1,000 has been diagnosed with rickets.
"This is quite unbelievable - in a part of the country with more sunshine than anywhere else - it is honestly shocking," said Nicholas Clarke, an orthopedic surgeon at Southampton General hospital. Clarke and colleagues recently studied 200 children with bone problems and found that 40 of them had full-blown rickets.
To stem the tide of rickets - and to provide other, recently discovered benefits of vitamin D function including a lower risk of diseases from the common cold to cancer - British doctors now recommend 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight (without sunscreen) at least five days a week. This contradicts earlier advice that urged people to avoid the sun during the middle of the day.
"The amount of time you need to spend in the sun to make enough vitamin D varies as it depends on individual skin type as well as time of day, time of year, and where you are in the world," said Ed Yong of Cancer Research UK.
"When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best."