Posted by: The Amoeba | March 25, 2009

Vitamin D Gets An F

As if We the People of these Untied States of America didn’t have enough to worry about, what with the global economic meltdown, financiers absconding with taxpayer-funded bonuses, and our President playing Baracketology on the four-letter sports network. (You think I’m kidding?!?)

Now We are getting told we’re not getting enough vitamin D.

The news has been (ahem) all over the news today (24 March 2009). Even the staid Morning Edition program on National Public Radio ran a story, including interviews with the authors of the study that set off all the reporting.

That study contained some remarkable information that (naturally) didn’t always make its way into the press reports.

First of all, it’s paired with another study, the point of which is that vitamin D insufficiency matters – older people who get adequate amounts have much reduced risk of brittle bones.

Second, this wasn’t exactly one of those “seven out of ten doctors preferred” studies. The authors had access to medical records from some 33,000 people who, as part of a larger health survey, had been assessed for their vitamin D levels over two periods of time, 1988-1994 and 2001-2004. That’s a lot of data.

Which is why it took five years, from when the last subject’s blood was drawn, to get the study written up and published. Crunching those numbers takes time, especially if you’re going to crunch them to the satisfaction of a jury of your peers, who get to decide whether your work is good enough to be published. And the people doing the work had other things to do with their time. Like, um, saving lives – they are medical doctors after all.

It’s as well that the authors had patience as well as patients, because crunching these numbers also takes money. And it’s not like these medical doctors were building cruise missiles or anything important like that.

That “1988-1994” time period caught Your Amoeba’s, er, pseudopod. Because that’s about when UV-blocking sunscreens started hitting the market big time.

Before then, y’see, the complex problem of vitamin D deficiency had a simple, easy-to-understand answer. Go outside. Live human skin + sunshine = vitamin D production. Twenty minutes a day keeps the rickets away.

Of course, if a little is good, more must be better, right? Beautiful people who were deprived, by accident of birth, of the skin-tone blessings of humans reared for millennia in tropical climes, sought to compensate by engaging in quests for “the perfect tan”. And in the process discovered the phenomena of premature aging, which has the drawback of being socially awkward, and melanoma, which has the drawback of being fatal.

Once tanning came to be associated with a quick and painful death, tanning itself suffered the same fate. This was bad news for Waikiki. In fact, it was bad news for everybody who was not a shareholder in the companies that were selling Dungeons and Dragons and video games. People didn’t limit their sun exposure, they eliminated it. This could not be borne.

Enter the sunscreens. The diet cola principle extended to the great outdoors. Sunscreen makers exploded into the marketplace with big promises and bigger profits. “All the sun you can stand, and no damage to your waistline skin”.

But no vitamin D production either. What? Oh. Yeah. Right. So what?

Brittle bones, that’s what. And in children, rickets. Especially since milk makes you fat (we’re told), so kids aren’t drinking their vitamin D, either.

So, authors of the vitamin D studies. What’s the answer to the conundrum? Moderate sun exposure?

Please. Where are the profits in that? We’re supposed to be stimulating the economy here.

The word of the day is supplements, dear readers. Probably brought to you by your local nutrition center, who might be supporting this class of research (because there haven’t been public funds for this sort of thing for years now; see “cruise missiles”, supra) without telling anybody. That way, in order to go out into the sun, you buy a superpowered sunscreen to block the sunshine you’re supposed to be enjoying, and then you buy pills to replace the vitamin D that your own body would have made from the sunshine if you hadn’t lathered your body with sunscreen to block the sunshine out.

‘Course, if you really wish to go down this yellow brick road, you don’t have to wait for Field Marshall Nutrition to put out vitamin D pills at a price that would embarrass Viagra. All you really need to do is hop on down to the breakfast cereal aisle at your local grocers. The cereal people have been dosing their cardboard calories with supplements for decades …

Wait. Did I say “hop”? Sigh. Silly rabbit

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. This is so much funnier than my blog post about Vitamin D! I’m one of those people who avoided the sun too late and got skin cancer, but am also probably not making enough D. What to do? what to do? (My post was “The Sunshine Vitamin” in the possibly related posts of your blog post here. I’m going to link any of my future blog posts on this subject to you!)

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Catherine, and glad you enjoyed the post! Sorry to hear about the skin cancer, I hope it was one of those low-grade ones.

  3. interesting in your post

    “all over the news… today”
    this is news?

    “pseudopod” – looked it up…wow

    “twenty minutes a day”… im flabbergasted that people don’t get out for 20 minutes. the thought of no fresh air at all is scary

  4. Nancy, I first heard about the vitamin D thing on the NPR report I cited. Then found it all over the web-based news reports. I also uncovered a fair number of other vitamin D reports from 2008 and 2009, enough to convince me that people were being talked into rediscovering a “new” miracle drug here. I know the pharma companies need to boost sales, but …

    Did you really expect me to write that an amoeba has eyes? I almost did …

    And yes, it is scary. But it happens. Especially when you count the folk who won’t go out of doors to get the newspaper without seventeen layers of clothes over a slathering of sunblock.

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