New Forms of Bottled Sunshine (Nov, 1934)

When I’m reading an article that is telling me to take Vitamin D and I see that all of the products advertised on those pages contain Vitamin D it does give me some doubts as to the editorial impartiality of the author. It’s sort of like reading an article about ADHD and noticing that all of the ads are for Ritalin or Adderall.

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New Forms of Bottled Sunshine

During the “Dark Months,” Vitally Speaking, It Is Still Possible As Well as Important to Enjoy Sunshine Values Now Provided by the Progress of Science

By Milo Hastings

VITAMIN D, “the sunshine vitamin,” has received more attention than any other vitamin, or, for that matter, than anything else in modern nutritional science. All this discussion, and the claims and counterclaims regarding various ways by which we should get our supply of vitamin D, has led to considerable confusion. The purpose of this article is to try to clear up that confusion.

One source for a very excusable misunderstanding regarding this unique vitamin comes from a belief that a diet composed of a variety of natural foods should supply us with all the elements needed for complete nutrition and ideal health. That belief is soundly based on general nutritional law, and there is no better rule of health. But vitamin D furnishes the exception that proves the rule. No list of foods that would likely be selected by any people, savage or civilized, would furnish enough vitamin D to maintain ideal growth or maximum health!

The statement just made sounds as if we are accusing Nature of having blundered by failing to supply the natural foods of man with all the essentials needed for human health.

But Nature stands exonerated. It is civilization, and not Nature, that is responsible for rickets, the disease caused by lack of vitamin D, a disease that is the cause of numerous defects and deformities that cripple civilized man. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the millions of twisted perversions of distorted human forms of lesser fame were not born of God’s displeasure, but were created by the thwarting of Nature’s laws because of human ignorance.

The explanation of it all is that vitamin D, although quite properly a nutritional element, is not by Nature’s plan a substance to be derived directly from food, but to be formed within the human body. The method of this formation is unique and distinctive, for this vitamin, in the natural plan of human nutrition, is formed in the human skin, and the agent that activates or causes its formation is certain rays in the sunshine.

Let us get this clear. The sunlight is not the vitamin and does not contain the vitamin. The vitamin is a substance formed of chemical elements as are the numerous other substances essential to life. There is no substance in sunshine. It is rather a force or form of radiant energy. But it has the power to cause chemical changes, as is illustrated by its action in a photographic plate.

THE particular rays in the sunlight which we are now considering are among the invisible ultra-violet rays of the spectrum. They penetrate the outer layers of the skin and reach a certain layer of cells that contain a substance called ergosterol. These rays cause a chemical change in the ergosterol. This changed substance is taken up by the blood stream and further transformations are supposed to occur in the liver to form the actual vitamin D, which is then transported throughout the body to perform its needed nutritional functions—chief of which is that of facilitating the chemical action by which the solid bone substance is formed from the salts of calcium and phosphorus, also carried in solution in the blood. Without this vitamin there can be no normal healthy growth of the bones, or of the teeth, the chemical formation of which is similar.

All this is a very unique and distinctive process. The unusual thing about it is that an outside agency—the particular light rays shining on the skin—is essential to the process.

But there is nothing unusual in the fact that a substance essential to nutrition has been formed in the body instead of being taken into the body as food. Far from being unusual, that is a very typical physiological action. The numerous “internal secretions” produced by the various body glands, and upon which so many of our life processes depend, are formed in the body from other substances, and not, as such, taken with our food.

Indeed, with a few exceptions, the food substances as we take them are all transformed into something else before they perform their final functions in the growth and nutrition of our various cells and organs.

Food must therefore supply us, not with the final forms of chemical substances that actually nourish and sustain our life processes, but with certain raw materials from which the final substances can be made.

The raw material for vitamin D, this substance called ergosterol, is not a thing for the formation of which we need any unusual or distinctive food substances. We seem to be able to form this ergosterol from any diet that supplies ordinary nourishment. The supply of ergosterol may be in the food we eat, as ergosterol, or more likely we can form it from other and more common food substances. That is not important, since there seems to be no question of a shortage of ergosterol. So far as we know, consuming a diet containing excessive amounts of ergosterol would not in the least help an individual whose skin was never exposed to the needed light rays.

Under Nature’s plan for human nutrition, the bulk of vitamin D is formed in the skin by this action of light. But, and this is the important fact to understand, the nutritional scheme offers an alternative, in that vitamin D may also be supplied by way of the mouth and the digestive organs.

So far as we know, it makes no difference to the essential function of bone growth whether the supply of vitamin D comes from the sunlighted skin of the individual or is taken directly with his food. Or the supply may come from both sources.

The utilization of this double source of this vitamin is to be explained by the fact that humanity was able to adopt numerous habits which gradually reduced and shut off the action of sunlight on the human skin without resulting in the destruction of humanity. • The gradual process of depriving the human skin of access to sunlight has been going on for thousands of years, and took many different forms. Strange to say, this de-sunning of humanity came about through the very changes in human habits and ways of life that were held to be essential to human progress, civilization and even so-called morality.

To trace that strange evolution we go back and start with the wild savage living in a tropical climate, wearing no clothes and having only the crudest shelter from the storms. In sunny weather he lived outdoors, his bare skin freely exposed to the sunlight, except when fiercer noonday heat drove him to seek the cooling shade of rocks or trees.

THE process of de-sunning humanity took many forms. One form was the gradual drift from the tropics toward the poles, where there is less brilliant sunshine. Lesser sunshine made less warmth, and so came houses and clothing—not for the purpose of shutting out the sun, but of protecting the body from the cold.

Clothes and houses also developed in the very hottest of climates—as in the Arabian desert—to protect man from an excess of the sun’s heat. But in that case less damage was done, since the excessive intensity of the sun still furnished enough light action on the skin with less area and time of exposure.

But in the northern and less sunny climates, and especially in the case of city dwellers, there came about a condition in which the race began to suffer from this unrealized interference with the action of sunlight in creating this vitamin in the skin. The pall of fog and smoke that came to hang over cities furnished a screen to further dim the action of the sun. Man invented glass to let sunlight into his houses, but the particular invisible rays essential to this action do not pass through the glass that lets in the light for the eyes. Man also devised brilliant sources of artificial light that turned night into day—as far as eye-light was concerned, but which did not supply this life-giving “light” for the skin.

To add to this comedy of unsuspected human errors, man developed a moral code—which our generation is speedily reforming—that decreed it to be immoral and indecent to expose the human skin, save those small patches of the face and hands. And so we got de-sunned and civilized.

WE ALSO got a plentiful sprinkling of hideous deformities and mysterious diseases which our naked ancestors never knew. Among them were hunchbacks or curvatures of the spine.

There were also bow-legs—considered humorous—and knock-knees. There were numerous other bone deformities. There was also a terrible and formerly incurable bone disease, known as tuberculosis of the bones, which produced most pathetic and horrible cripples.

There was something else, that few of you realize to be in this group of bone diseases, and that is women with the pelvis undeveloped and misshapen who, when they came to childbirth, were in a most horrible dilemma, since the bony head of the child could not pass through the pelvic circle. In cruder days of this dark and darkness caused age, that meant the horrible death of both mother and child. Then civilization, that had blunderingly done this thing, came forth with a marvelous makeshift, and surgery gave the infant Caesar living to the world by Caesarian operation. His grandmother had been a modest lady, well clothed and living indoors as a lady should. And she kept her little baby daughter likewise out of the sunlight, and having no cod-liver oil or vitamin D milk the little girl had rickets and grew up with a deformed pelvis. But young Caesar, damned by civilization, was saved by the doctors to conquer Gaul.

Also in passing we might note that of the several billions of civilized teeth that have chewed civilized food in recent centuries at least half of them have rotted away because their owners lived in houses and wore clothes. The consumption of various deficient diets was also a factor, since tooth nutrition involves other things besides vitamin D—the complications of which we cannot go into in this article.

During these dark days of unsunned human ignorance, mankind got by with rotten teeth, defective jaws and a general sprinkling of crooked bones. Only a few scattering individuals died of rickets in childbirth, or lived on as hopeless cripples. The rest got by. Why? Because they had some sunshine on their skins in odd patches and at odd times. Also because of this dual or alternative scheme of the two ways of getting this vitamin.

All diets probably have some vitamin D in them. There are traces of it in many plant foods. There are somewhat richer sources of it in various foods of animal origin. Egg yolks contain quite a lot of it, more when the hens are exposed to sunlight—a probable reason why eggs hatch better and more of the chicks live in the spring and summer than in the fall and winter. The fat of cows’ milk also contains some, though not much, of this rare vitamin. The livers of all species of animals contain much of this vitamin.

And now comes another very odd fact. The vitamin in the liver is dissolved in oil. Mammal livers do not have much oil. The livers of many, possibly all species of fish are, for those species, the body’s repository of reserve fat. So we come to cod-liver oil, the first known “bottled sunshine.” Never mind where the codfish gets it or why he—or she—has so much of it. But there it is. Its peculiar value was discovered by accident.

Codfish are found in northern waters, and are fished for by people living in foggy northern climates where rickets and other vitamin D deficiencies thrive. These people came to use cod-liver oil as a food oil—not because they liked it but because it was available. Shrewd observers noted that this most peculiar food oil seemed to have “medicinal” qualities. It prevented or cured rickets. It also seemed helpful in cases of tuberculosis. So it became a medicine and was tried for many diseases, some of which it cured. It also gained a great reputation as a spring tonic, and seemed to spruce people up from the general debility from which they suffered after living through the long dark northern winters. It was also found to aid many thin people in gaining weight. It was a “natural medicine.”

Shrewd observation was also teaching men for several generations past that exposure of children to sunlight was a cure for rickets and for tuberculosis of the bones.

TO PUT these two seemingly unrelated observations together, to find out the way they worked and why two such seemingly unrelated things as sunshine and cod-liver oil were the same kind of medicine, all forms one of the most brilliant achievements of modern science.

Once the glory of search was on, every clue was run down. And so today we have, not one, but many new forms of bottled sunshine. I will have space here to scarcely more than enumerate them, though each one is interesting enough to make a story by itself.

One great achievement was the devising of sun-lamps—lamps that give superabundance of the essential ultraviolet rays. These lamps will tan your skin the same as sunshine will. The tanning has nothing to do with the formation of the vitamin. But the same rays give both effects, and so the fact of tanning is the visible evidence of the vitamin-forming power of the invisible rays.

The actual tanning is Nature’s reaction to protect against too much sunlight. Dark-skinned people develop in climates that are too sunny, blonds in climates not sunny enough. The fair-skinned Scandinavian may burn and blister instead of tan. He has practically lost this power of protection against too much sun.

The Negro inherits his tan and has too much of it for his own good health in northern climates. Negro babies in all northern cities are much more subject to rickets than the white babies. The Mohammedan ladies in sun-baked India are decimated by tuberculosis because, on top of their dark skins, they are covered and veiled and kept indoors. So they die from lack of sunshine in a climate that has too much.

For winter use the modern sunlamp is a great invention. Regularly and sufficiently used it seems to be a good substitute for outdoor sunshine, and also for food sources of vitamin D.

Whether derived from outdoor sunshine or from sun-lamps there are also many elements of satisfaction, and quite probably some elements of positive health as well, to be derived from a well-tanned skin, in addition to this matter of making our own vitamin D. To many eyes, a tanned skin is more sightly, and the skin itself seems to be more healthy. Exposure of the skin to air, as well as to the light rays, builds a hardier skin, less subject to reactions from temperature changes. Sun-bathers do not catch cold as easily as bleached humanity, which is probably due to a factor of skin health quite independent of Vitamin D.

BUT, in spite of rapid spread of sunbathing and sun-lamps, only a few people are able to make full use of either idea. And remember this, that tanning alone is not a guarantee of the supply of this vitamin—but may, in fact, interfere with it. Occasional and spasmodic sun-bathing or sun-lamp bathing will give one a tan, and a good tan will last weeks or even months. But the supplying of the needed vitamin is a nutritional problem, and a constant supply is needed. This fact, plus the fact that conditions and habits of life make regular sun-bathing, especially in winter, impractical for all but a few, serves to leave room for, and stress the importance of, food sources of vitamin D.

Cod-liver oil was the first . discovered and is still the best known of these sources. Cod-liver oil also contains vitamin A, an entirely different vitamin, that has different functions. An oil heavily charged with two important vitamins has much to recommend it, including evidence that the vitamin D is more efficiently utilized in the presence of abundant vitamin A. The only thing against cod-liver oil is the fishy flavor that is quite distasteful to most people.

When these facts about cod-liver oil became known, many saw the great opportunity presented to the chemist who could first successfully extract the valuable vitamins from cod-liver oil and get rid of the objectionable fish-oil taste and smell. The appeal of the idea was so obvious that, before the real chemists solved the problem, a faker rushed in and put on the market a product which claimed to have the properties of cod-liver oil but which was a fraud and contained no vitamins.

But later the process was worked out successfully and the fraudulent preparation chased off the market by genuine vitamin concentrates made from cod-liver oil. There is no monopoly, as several chemists worked out slightly different, but equally successful ways of making the separation. It is a remarkable fact, but a fact now fully accepted in the world of science, that not only the vitamin D, but also the vitamin A of cod-liver oil can be concentrated into about one half of one per cent of the original bulk of the oil. Indeed the concentrate is so strong that it can be and is put in the form of little sugar-coated tablets that haven’t the slightest resemblance to cod-liver oil. Improvement in taste is the main advantage, but the tablet concentrate also overcomes a prejudice against the oil form, which was believed to be both “heating” and “fattening.” That was not a serious objection even to cod-liver oil, since the quantity of oil used was so small. The idea that the vitamins themselves have some objectional “heating” quality is merely an inference from the winter use—a use based on lack of light, not lack of heat.

LASTLY among these present sources of vitamin D we come to the very remarkable scientific achievement of creating an entirely new source of this vitamin, which has resulted in its addition to a variety of food products. This discovery is based upon the imitation in the scientific laboratory of the process that occurs in the human skin, by which the substance known as ergosterol is changed into the vitamin by the action of ultraviolet light.

Professor Steenbock of the University of Wisconsin was the genius who first worked this out. By feeding experiments on rats in which rickets were developed he traced the following rather marvelous facts. He found that the rickets could be prevented by: 1. Exposing the rats to sunshine, or to artificial ultra-violet light. 2. By feeding them milk from goats that were exposed to ultra-violet light. 3. By feeding them goats’ milk after it had been exposed to ultra-violet light. 4. By exposing dried clover hay to ultra-violet light, feeding the hay to the goats and the goats’ milk to the rats.

So there was the basis of the idea that the source of the vitamin was in the ultra-violet light shining on some particular chemical substance, and it was the substance that was important and not the place in which it was exposed to the light.

That substance was found to be ergosterol. This substance exists in many natural foods such as whole-grain cereal products. Therefore such products treated by ultra-violet light develop vitamin D. This process has been applied commercially to certain cereal products.

But to produce the vitamin for introduction into other products it was necessary to find the most abundant source of ergosterol. That source was found in yeast. From ergosterol derived from yeast and exposed to ultraviolet light from powerful sun-lamps is now derived the most highly concentrated and powerful form of vitamin D.

So manufactured, this concentrated vitamin is now a commercial drug and is much used by the medical profession. It is also widely used to make special food products reinforced with

this vitamin. Bread is so made and is on the market. So also is one of the most popular forms of milk chocolate beverages, which offers a way to insure children a supply of this vitamin with their milk—since the method of use is to mix this chocolate-flavored powdered food with fresh liquid milk.

Recently a further step in this development of vitamin D foods has resulted in putting on the market evaporated canned milk that contains vitamin D.

Lastly we have to consider the incorporation of vitamin D into the supply of fresh milk. Three methods are now in use to attain this end. One method is to add to the milk the vitamin concentrate derived from cod-liver oil.

Another method is to irradiate the milk itself with the ultra-violet lamps. Ordinary milk contains enough ergosterol so that, with the proper working out of the method of irradiation, the milk develops enough of the vitamin that it offers full protection against rickets.

The method I am last mentioning was actually the first method to be commercially developed. It is to irradiate yeast, without separating the ergosterol, and to feed this vitamin-containing yeast to milk cows, who then produce a milk amply high in vitamin D.

Thus we now have three distinct methods of producing fresh milk bearing ample vitamin D to protect children against rickets. It is not up to the writer to say which method is the best. They were all developed by the scientists of our great universities. The commercial dairyman producing the milk must work under scientific supervision, since the processes are all patented. The financial returns from the patents go to the universities to pay for this supervision and for further research.

Naturally some rivalry has been developed between these different processes that attain the same end. Hence the actual sellers of the particular types of vitaminized milk may make claims that the method they use is the best. So far as I know they are all good, and users will be quite safe in using whatever type of vitamin D milk is offered to them by the local milk company. It is only fair, however, to note that the use of cod-liver oil concentrates may increase the vitamin A content of the milk, as well as to add the vitamin D.

IF FRESH milk, bearing this vitamin D, is not yet locally available, there are the other products, already referred to, that may be had anywhere. Nor is there any reason why two or more products containing vitamin D should not be used by the same family. There is no danger of getting too much, since, as in the case of most of the vitamins, the minimum and the maximum quantities are “miles” apart. That might not apply to the concentrates in the drug form, but none of the food products contain any such quantities as to raise any problem of a harmful excess.

The same idea would apply to the combination of the sun or sun-lamp method of getting the vitamin and the food method. We always combined them, and even with the combination many failed to get enough. Now with known sources available we could do well to continue to combine them and get such sun-bathing as time and circumstances offer and also use the food sources—especially in the fall and winter months.

To supply an abundance of vitamin D is emphatically a duty in child nutrition, since a child’s bones and teeth are growing, and the crippling and permanent defects of bones and teeth developed during growth are handicaps through life that can not be fully remedied in after years.

When should we begin to give the child this vitamin? The answer is plain and positive. Nine months before he is born! For that is when he begins to grow. Vitamin D foods, and especially vitamin D milk, is important for the pregnant and the nursing mother. The Hottentot mother does not need them. Neither does the modern nudist mother if she lives the year round in a nudist camp. All others do.

WE DON’T know much about adult bone nutrition. We don’t even know that this vitamin D adds anything positive to the health of an adult —bearing mothers excepted. And yet the chances are that it does. It seems to have something to. do with the protection against tubercular infection. Also perhaps against common colds. Maybe against other diseases now ascribed to other causes.

It seems to “be a pretty safe general principle that, once we have discovered that some substance is vital to some essential physiological process, it is also a needed factor in other processes that have not been so fully traced out. Health laws seem to work like that. The old medical notion that there was a “specific” for each disease, good for that disease only and naught else, was about as wrong as a principle could be. The good old family doctor, inculcated with that doctrine, used to make up shotgun prescriptions. He mixed a dozen kinds of medicine for a dozen kinds of the most common diseases. When he didn’t know what ailed you he made a dozen guesses and took a shot at you.

Nutritional science uses the shotgun method to better effect. It having been first discovered that the extreme lack of certain nutritional elements caused particular diseases, we have later found that supplying an abundance of the elements not only prevented the particular diseases, but improved the general health and protected us from other diseases as well.

When we know enough to have spotted all the nutritional elements and developed good supplies of them, disease will decrease more and more toward the vanishing point, and old age and automobiles will dominate the tables of mortality statistics.

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