September 16, 2008
Feeling a Bit Poorly?
By DAMIEN HENDERSON
SCOTLAND'S poor weather, specifically its lack of sunlight, is to blame for a greater range of health problems than has previously been admitted by government officials, a report published yesterday claimed.
Health writer Oliver Gillie called for an overhaul in public health policy to ensure that Scots received daily vitamin D supplements and maximised their exposure to sunlight.
He found that, due to its latitude, Scotland receives 30-50per cent less UV light capable of producing vitamin D than much of England.
In winter, this left almost 90per cent of Scots with inadequate levels of vitamin D, while more than half did not get enough in summer.
In Scotland's Health Deficit: An Explanation and a Plan, he linked this vitamin deficiency to higher rates of chronic diseases including several cancers, heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes (types 1 and 2) , arguing that Scotland's health policy has lagged behind other countries, such as Germany and Canada, which recognised the importance of topping up vitamin D levels.
His conclusions appear to have been taken seriously by leading health experts and public officials, including Harry Burns, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, who called them an "important contribution" to public health debate.
Mr Burns added: " It is important attempts to improve health in Scotland remain focused on action on the social, economic, behavioural and psychological determinants of health. If vitamin D supplements can be shown to contribute we will make the appropriate recommendations."
The report contains a list of key action points, including recommending daily supplements, allowing "megadoses" containing up to 50 times the current daily dose, overhauling outdated advice to take in scientific advances regarding vitamin D levels and introducing legislation which would allow drug manufacturers to advertise the health benefits of the supplements.
The rethink on UV exposure would also require consideration of whether current advice against over-exposure to the sun and use of sunbeds and tanning salons should be recalibrated to take in their benefits, Mr Gillie argued.
As well as offering a possible explanation for health differences between Scotland and England, Mr Gillie's findings chime with established research which shows a health gap between the west of Scotland and the rest of the country. Residents in the west including Glasgow, were found to be particularly susceptible to low vitamin D levels due to the predominance of wet, westerly winds which lead to far less sunlight than found in Aberdeen and other areas along the east coast.
They also suggest a reason for the "Scottish effect" - the difference in health outcomes that Scotland suffers, even when social and economic factors are discounted.
Professor Phil Hanlon, one of Scotland's leading experts on public health, based at Glasgow University and who coined the term, said Mr Gillie's research opened up some interesting possibilities "It's a genuinely interesting theory. But - and it's a big but - we need conclusive evidence that if we give vitamin D it will help anyone. Until we have such evidence we should be cautious about taking such an approach."
Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.
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