Rickets, the crippling childhood bone disease that causes stunted growth and deformities, appears to be re-emerging in the UK despite the fact that it is believed to have been eradicated many decades ago.
Rickets, which is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, should be very rare in Western countries. Rickets causes softening and weakening of bones leading to conditions such as spinal curvature and bowed legs. Although rickets was common at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was virtually eliminated by the fortification of foods with Vitamin D after the Second World War.
Healthcare professionals in the UK are linking the resurgence of rickets with modern lifestyle and a lack of exposure to sunlight which is essential for the skin to manufacture Vitamin D. They suggest that women do not go outside enough, so their Vitamin D supplies are not replenished. They use up Vitamin D during pregnancy, so if they have multiple pregnancies, their third or fourth child is likely to be born with a severe Vitamin D deficiency, meaning they are likely to develop rickets at around 18 months of age.
Dr Elspeth Webb, a pediatrician and reader in child health at Cardiff University, states that, “we’re still seeing rickets in children in Cardiff in the 21st Century – which a lot of people might be very shocked and surprised by, thinking of it as a Victorian illness. But no, it’s not.”
The Symptoms of Rickets
The symptoms of rickets in childhood can be fairly well established before they are diagnosed. They include:
- Pain which can be hard for a child to identify
- A protruding breastbone known as pigeon chest
- Thickening of the wrists or ankles
- Soft skull
- Bowed legs
- Spine curvature
- Fracture prone fragile bones
- Slow tooth development
- Weak tooth enamel
While some of our Vitamin D intake comes from food, the majority is manufactured by our skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Occasionally children can experience the symptoms of rickets when they actually have liver, kidney, or digestive diseases that prevent them from absorbing Vitamin D even if they are getting enough sun.
How to Avoid Rickets
Avoiding rickets means making sure you and your children get enough Vitamin D. As well as preventing bone conditions such as rickets, osteoporosis, dental disease and arthritis, getting adequate levels of Vitamin D can help to combat many varieties of cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, and muscle wasting.
There are three ways you can make sure you are not deficient in Vitamin D:
- Include Vitamin D in your diet by eating plenty of oily fish, eggs and liver. Eating foods that are high in calcium, such as milk, cheese, green vegetable, beans, and dried fruits, can also help to prevent childhood rickets.
- Make sure you get sufficient sunlight, by making sure the skin on your face and hands is exposed to sunlight for around 15 minutes each day, taking care to avoid the hottest part of the day in mid-summer, which is likely to cause sunburn and skin damage.
- Supplementing with Active D. This Vitamin D supplement is in a liquid form with medium chain triglycerides for optimum absorption. Taking just one drop each day can ensure adequate Vitamin D levels. This is particularly useful for people that do not get enough exposure to sunlight, or women who feel their Vitamin D levels may be depleted by multiple pregnancies and want to avoid the risk of their children developing rickets or other signs of Vitamin D deficiency.