Monday, July 16, 2007

The shame of disinformation

I have an idea that there are forces at work that do not let the truth be told. The light of the sun, the symbol of truth, is being put in the shadow by a man-made menace of advertising slogans and nonsensical paradigms.

I am talking about the myth that the sun is bad for you. How did all that talk about staying out of the sun get started? In Victorian days, it was the idea that nobility could not mingle with the peasants. Peasants were those people who got a tan, and getting a tan would mark you as person spending time slaving away at mundane task such as ploughing, sowing, and harvesting. People of breeding didn't have to work out there.

That train of thought stopped when the anti-rachitic factor was discovered. In the early 20th century, scientists discovered that a substance called vitamin D cured rickets, a disease that caused children's bones to bend. The easiest way to obtain vitamin D was to go out into the sun. It was inexpensive. So, all of a sudden, it became fashionable to get a tan, and to spend your leisure time outdoors in the sun. The laborer became an indoor worker, and a tan was proof that you had time and money to lounge around at the beach. Sun-worshipping became so popular that people spent all their holidays at the seashore. Nudist camps became popular. However, gradually a drawback was noticed. Since most people could only afford two weeks vacation, all the sun had to be gotten in such a short time that the skin would invariably burn. Skin cancer rates were on the rise.

The discovery of being able to ingest vitamin D through food then made it possible to launch a disinformation campaign that assured everyone that it was now possible to get all the vitamin D from irradiated milk (that's how vitamin D gets into the milk; it is not naturally in cows' milk, not in mothers' milk either). Cod liver oil was not advertised as aggressively because it tasted bad, and it could not be sold other than in UV-sun-deprived countries like Norway. The problem with milk is that you have to drink an awful lot of milk to get enough vitamin D. So, in come the pharmaceutical companies. They smelled profit. Instead of telling people to get just a little bit of sun every day, they advertised sun-screen as well as multi-vitamin pills. And everyone swallowed it hook, line and sinker. It seems like such a simple solution. The fact that you can overdose on vitamin D pills -- you really can -- was not emphasized. It became a mantra. Thou shalt not go into the sun lest thou get skin cancer. Where are the voices that should shout it from the roof-tops that vitamin D deficiency leaves the body without defences and very much subject to breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and susceptible to tuberculosis and other infectious ailments and other immune deficiencies? The most obvious effects of not enough vitamin D, of course, are broken bones and hip- and knee-replacements. No pharmaceutical company spends money to point out that osteomalacia is adult rickets. With children you see the rickets outright. In adults, it takes a doctor with a hunch (no pun intended) to discover the deficiency. It's usually called osteoporosis. (Of course, no one has vitamin D deficieny any more. Really? Think again!)

All told, it's more convenient to sell drugs that "strengthen" bones (Fosamax, Boniva). Why get rid of a cash-cow in favor of a few rays (20-minutes worth per day) of noon-day sun that is free?


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