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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones