Leading article: An old tonic vindicated anew

Share

The teaspoonful of foul-tasting cod liver oil was a daily ritual for millions of children growing up in post-war Britain in the 1950s. After wartime rationing, the priority was to build up the nation's youth with a diet high in protein and boosted with vitamin supplements to ward off diseases such as rickets, which softened the bones and led to the tell-tale bow legs that had been common in Victorian times.

Half a century later, middle-class, health- conscious families are once again turning to cod liver oil - a rich source of vitamins A and D and omega-3 fish oils - as a protective measure against many of the degenerative conditions of modern life. The translucent amber capsules are now among the most widely consumed vitamin supplements in Britain.

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and rickets - all have been linked with a lack of vitamin D. Research interest in the vitamin has been fuelled by the recognition that, as the main source is the sun - through its action on the skin - levels drop during the winter months and are generally lower in northern climes.

Although some vitamin D can be obtained from the diet, an estimated 60 per cent of people in Britain are deficient by the end of winter. Some experts have called for the fortification of staple foods such as bread and milk with the vitamin. Supporters of the vitamin D hypothesis include some of the most notable names in medicine. Sir Donald Acheson, the former chief medical officer, published a paper last year showing that people who spent more time in the sun were less likely to get multiple sclerosis, based on a review of 430,000 people treated in Oxford for neurological and immune related diseases over almost 50 years. Sir Donald was one of the first epidemiologists to note in the 1960s that MS was less common among white populations living close to the equator. Interest in vitamin D was also taken up by Sir Richard Doll, discoverer of the link between smoking and lung cancer, who was considering research studies into its role in a range of conditions at the time of his death earlier this year.

And the growing evidence of the vitamin's role in protecting against disease has led cancer specialists around the world to rethink their advice on covering up in the sun. Australia led the way with a statement earlier this year from the Cancer Councils of Australia that "a balance is required" between avoiding skin cancer and obtaining enough vitamin D. Coming from a nation where the sun is notoriously fierce and skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world, this was powerful testimony of the newly recognised importance of vitamin D.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence