Bottle of yellow fish oil pills on table

Vitamin D deficiency, a ticking bomb?

Dear Editor,

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the world was plagued by a pandemic – rickets, a disease that, among other things, led to skeletal deformity in especially young children. In the early 20th century, it was discovered that the cause was a lack of vitamin D and treatment with sunlight and cod liver oil had a curative effect.

Since then, we have learned a lot about the importance of vitamin D and health. As a retired endocrine surgeon, I considered myself competent to do a literature review and the result of this was, to some extent, frightening but also hopeful.

Scary because vitamin D deficiency is still so common. In Portugal, for example, 30-60% of adults have a deficiency (study from 2017).

Scary because of the amount of disease this deficiency can potentially lead to.

Hopeful because of how easy it would be to fix the problem.

Vitamin D is a vital prehormone that plays a major role in many of the body’s processes. Almost all cells have a vitamin-D receptor, a small “antenna” where the vitamin can attach to perform its functions. In addition to rickets and osteoporosis in adults, vitamin D deficiency is associated with a variety of diseases.

High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus and development of blood clots. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with several autoimmune diseases such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis. And many more ailments are more common in people with vitamin D deficiency.

The vitamin is essential for our DNA repair system and for our mental health. Deficiency can cause fatigue, depression, Alzheimer’s, autism, even psychosis. It is also important for the function of our immune system against cancer, invading bacteria and toxins as well as viruses. A very strong relationship is seen between vitamin D deficiency and severe morbidity and death in Covid-19.

Our main sources of vitamin D are the sun’s ultraviolet rays (which ironically are often referred to as the sun’s harmful radiation) and our diet, especially fat fish, eggs, red meat and more. In many countries, vitamin D is added to certain products such as milk. However, there are no recommendations for this in Portugal. Children from two weeks to one year are recommended supplements here, but 31.7% do not take it for some reason.

Certain diets, especially high-fructose corn syrup, inhibit the activation of vitamin D. Corn syrup is used in a variety of readymade products such as cakes, bread, cereals, sweets, soft drinks, etc. Sunscreen products prevent UV radiation from penetrating the skin and thus the production of the vitamin. Studies show a much higher frequency of vitamin D deficiency in winter, and how far from the equator we are.

So why a ticking bomb in the headline?

Vitamin D deficiency was a pandemic even before the current restrictions. Dark-skinned people in northern latitudes, the overweight and the elderly are more vulnerable. We have now, in most of the past year, been banned from going to the beach and constantly urged to stay at home. We are encouraged to cover the last small sun-exposed part of our skin with a mask, despite the fact that the only larger randomised study from Denmark could not show any positive effect of a face mask, regarding spread of the virus.

I have not seen any major effort on the part of the authorities to call for vitamin D supplements or substitution of other vitamins or minerals for that matter.

On top of all the other hugely negative effects of the shutdowns, I’m confident that this is a ticking health bomb.

I have tried to write this text short, simple and in a layman’s terms.

For those who are interested, I have gathered all the scientific basis for the above at:

Nils-Ola Holtze