By Stuart McHardy

Scotland has a reputation around the world. Generally we are known for our hospitality, humanity and culture. But we are also known as the Sick Man of Europe because of the extent of medical problems like MS, diabetes and even rickets.

While some of these problems are clearly linked to the endemic poverty which has been allowed to fester in our cities by indifferent and essentially corrupt politicians, there is another factor which has recently begun to receive attention, vitamin D deficiency which scientists around the world are becoming increasingly concerned with.

The lack of vitamin D is due primarily to a lack of sunlight, though even on sunny winter’s days the sunshine in northern climates is too low to be of benefit. The only way to counteract this deficiency is by ingesting vitamin supplements.

And therein lies the rub. Edinburgh GP Dr Helga Rhein has been to the fore in trying to raise awareness of this problem. Recently she told me, “It has become crystal clear that we have to do something about letting people know about the need to take vitamin D.”

She then made the point that it has been known for more than 100 years that vitamin D is important for the development of healthy bones and muscles. Rickets which used to be very common in Scotland was virtually abolished when cod liver oil, which contains vitamin D, was found to cure and prevent it. Several studies have shown that the majority of people living in Scotland are particularly short of vitamin D and that one in three of us is severely deficient.

Some recent scientific research has shown that extremely high levels of Vitamin D have absolutely no side effects at all. Dr Rhein points out that this makes it even more puzzling that the government recommended intake for expectant mothers is so low. The government recommends 400 IU daily where Dr Rhein suggests at least five times as much. 4000 IU daily has been declared the safe upper limit for adults by the American Institute of Medicine.

The scientific evidence is in, but as ever bureaucracy seems to be the problem. The problem is compounded by the fact that as things stand our GPs are not allowed to prescribe vitamin D. When you realise that people believe taking it leads to fewer colds and bouts of ‘flu’ (I can testify to that having been on it for over a year now), better repair of pulled or injured muscles and wounds, less aches and pains, better muscle strength, less tiredness and fewer feelings of depression, it seems plain daft that our GPs cannot prescribe it.

Because Vitamin D is involved in many cell processes that help maintenance and repair of tissue and supports the immune processes that defend the body against infection and the growth of malignant cells. It has also been claimed that it is of help to people suffering from cancer*.

No one is claiming that vitamin D is panacea for all ills, but the evidence from around the world demonstrates that it we need certain levels of it to keep healthy. In Scandinavia and Germany this has long been known and people there take it regularly and are encouraged to do so by their governments. The old cliche that prevention is better than cure seems relevant here.

People in Scotland, and northern England, who suffer from chronic medical conditions, and old people, often have low levels of vitamin D in their systems and Dr Rhein suggests that they should be encouraged take very large doses till their levels come up.

Your doctor can do a blood test to see whether your body stores of Vitamin D are adequate. Given the non-toxicity of even such high levels of the vitamin and the widely replicated scientific research showing the advantages of taking the supplements it is surely time that the powers that be gave GPs like Dr Rhein the power to prescribe them.

You can of course simply order supplements on line and take them yourself – I do, but as these supplements are of such obvious advantage it seems peculiar to say the least that the medical establishment in Scotland are not pushing them at us. After all prevention is not only better than cure it is also much more cost effective, which with the current political bleating about the state of the economy, and the strain ion NHS budgets, would appear to make the prescribing of widespread Vitamin D a no brainer.

And incidentally, the Daily Telegraph, not owned by Rupert Murdoch, reported last December 19, that sunbathing boosts men’s sex drives – and what do we get from sunshine – yep, Vitamin D.


Some recommended sources for ordering Vitamn D supplements are: -(UK) -micro tabs, good info, 500 IU, 1,000 IU, 2,000 IU, 5,000 IU. -(US) -1,000 IU; 5,000 IU; 50,000 IU = monthly dose – –
Also available at Holland and Barrett or Boots the Chemist


Lupus Incomitatus
2012-02-06 10:43

I have Vit D deficiency and am type 2 diabetic

It was diagnosed, the Vitamin deficiency, some few months ago after I was diagnosed Vit B12 deficient.

My doctor will also be checking me now for Vit K.

All these vitamins are associated with liver storage or involvement as is type 2 diabetes.

I eat a very balanced diet and do not overindulge in alcohol.

I am prescribed B12 and D by my doctor.

I live in France.

2012-02-06 12:38

Living in France is a different ballgame, you can stuff yourself with all sorts of goodies with no apparent deleterious effects. Red wine/goose fat/Gauloise/DNA! whatever, they’re doing something right.
Herring used to be cheap and a Scottish staple, time to get back to auld fashioned grub.
I read somewhere of a deficiency of Iodine in the Scots diet caused by the same lack of seafood. Remediable by the use of Iodised Salt, some supermarkets stock this, tastes the same, the article recommended all salt to be thus treated.
Marga B
2012-02-06 17:35

The Scottish Government should really be calling a conference of medical experts on this theme by now.
Ard Righ
2012-02-07 11:24

No no no no no no no.

Medical “experts” are the last people on the planet to advise, besides most doctors and medics having not sworn the Hypocratic oath are pushed by commercial agendas for allopathic medicine, which “treats” the disease, not the body and circumstances that created it. 99% of these synthesised allopathic chemicals have side effects, very often worse that the disease they purport to treat.

What is needed is a broad education of nutrition, which naturally leads to healing, Prevention is the best cure right? Synthesised bad, natural good.
If you keep your intake to natural foods your on to a winner, if you clog your system with chemicals, synthesised drugs and refined foods you will have serious problems until you don’t!


2012-02-06 19:11

The Chief Medical Officer of Scotland and the MOS from around the UK re-iterated last week their advice to doctors about Vit D and pregnanrt women. I believe they also sent outa letter to Health Professionals reminding them of this advice which may be followed up by an advertising campaign. So the relevant Government agencies are aware and are doing something.

Dr Rhein recently had a letter in the Herald. Reading it I was struck by the fact that she was basing her opinion about dosing everyoine with Vit D on a study that she had conducted which did not appear to be particularly scientific in its design and execution.

More extensdive studies have been conducted and reported which highlight the importance of Vit D but are more measured in their claims.

Too high a does of Vitamin D can lead to dangerous increases in Calcium levels.

Finally, there is a condition known as Vitmin-D resistant rickets. It is a genetic, inherited condition which runs in families although men tend to suffer from it more than women.

2012-02-06 20:05

It might be best to mention the correcct foods to eat to increase your dose:…/Vitamin-D.aspx

oily fish, such as salmon and sardines
fortified fat spreads
fortified breakfast cereals
powdered milk

As the effectiveness of taking suppliment vitamin pills has been called into question on occasions:…/2097492.stm

There really is no substitute to a balanced diet.

Lupus Incomitatus
2012-02-06 21:34

Unfortunately a balanced diet does not work for me.

Yes too much Vit D can be toxic but, it all depends on how much is stored in the liver and if you go on a fat-free diet, for example, allowing a large slug to be liberated into the blood.

It is lot more complicated that I learned at Uni, many years ago. Vit D is not available without prescription in France but can be accessed easily by way of Cod lover oil.

2012-02-07 00:32

Quoting Lupus Incomitatus:

Unfortunately a balanced diet does not work for me.

Yes too much Vit D can be toxic but, it all depends on how much is stored in the liver and if you go on a fat-free diet, for example, allowing a large slug to be liberated into the blood.

It is lot more complicated that I learned at Uni, many years ago. Vit D is not available without prescription in France but can be accessed easily by way of Cod lover oil.

Is cod lover oil the French version?

French is indeed the language of love 🙂

I was feeling run down with all the dismal weather this winter and started taking Superdrug’s own brand cod liver oil – cheap and, I have to say, effective.

2012-02-07 17:33

I love cod.

Ard Righ
2012-02-07 11:32

“fortified fat spreads
fortified breakfast cereals
powdered milk”

Definitely not, they’re all synthesised, therefore void of potency.
Besides, cows milk is for calfs, not humans, want a bovine brain?; keep drinking milk.


2012-02-07 01:10

Aw Europeans is descendit fae black African ancestors. The yins wi the darkest skins dee’d aff younger nor the yins wi lichter skins for want o vitamin D fae the Sun. Naitral selection ower thoosands o years seen mair o the licht skinned yins survivin langer nor the dark skinned yins til sic time as they war aw licht skinned.
Ard Righ
2012-02-07 11:13

Good nutrition is extremely important and has profound effect on what you’re physically and mentally capable, how we breed, the quality of the offspring and the ability of both to learn.
Focusing on one “phenomena”, such as vitamin X is counter productive. Broad nutritional knowledge is what we all need. Staying away from all refined foods is the easiest maxim to remember and the best place to start, refined foods take nutrients from your body in order to digest them. You have to get rid of the poison first. White sugar is very damaging as is white bread, etc. Boiled oil is a poison. These synthesised chemicals strip you rather that nourish you. White sugar can take six months to two years to allow your body to recover from! Stay well clear from sweeteners, fluoride and antibiotics and get with the garlic. Natural foods that still have their potency are the key, this includes meats, fruit and veg, cold pressed oils and fish. Here is the horror: 95% of what you see in a super market is junk or poison, particularly those pre-packed meals in oestrogen ridden plastics. There was wisdom behind the Hamish Imlach song Orange Juice and the Cod liver oil! It is important to have good mineral content too, particularly copper and iron and zinc. Your skin is your barometer, other good indicators are the whites of the eyes and your tongue.

This tells you exactly what is in everything that is worth eating:…/

This is a good basic over view:…/

Keep it real, not artificial. Google yourself out of ignorance.

2012-02-07 17:29

There is an error in the article, where it states that very high levels of vitamin D have no adverse effect. That is simply not true. Hypervitaminosi s D can and does lead to hypercalcaemia, which causes kidney failure (fortunately reversible if caught in time). This does not detract from the point being made that people who are deficient should be doing something about it, but it is necessary to emphasise that the dose needs to be assessed with caution.

I am also very dubious about the assertion that GPs in Scotland are not allowed to prescribe vitamin D supplements. IANAD, but I know that my medical colleagues have very wide discretion as to what they prescribe, and I would be very surprised indeed to learn they were forbidden from prescribing something as innocuous as a vitamin supplement.

2012-02-07 17:37

There’s a letter in the herald today making the bold assertion that there’s no need for anyone in Scotland to be using sunsceen for this very reason – undoing at a stroke all the good work done on promoting skin protection, especially for us ginger folk. Think I’d rather have the cod lover oil than burn.
Interesting findings though, my mum used to make us take cod liver oil every day in the 60s, I wish I hadn’t stopped now.
2012-02-07 19:29

Eat plenty of green vegetables like spinach and Kale each day.
Eat plenty of berries like blueberries and blackberries each day.
For God’s sake get some sun each day (15 minutes) and no sunscreen.
The sun provides nutrients and we are ignorant to assume vitamin D is the only on of these the sun provides.
2012-02-08 07:36

People in Scotland should all move to Florida. It would be a great improvement, sunshine, stay up all night dancing!
helga rhein
2012-02-11 15:07

Just to rectify some statements which the author might have misunderstood:
1. yes, too high vitamin D blood levels are dangerous. But you would need to take a a large dose of supplements for many weeks (something like 20,000 IU daily for several months) to reach these dangerously high levels.
2. If you stick to the officially declared safe upper limit of 4000 IU daily you can’t go wrong.
3. GPs are “allowed” to prescribe these supplements, but strongly discouraged, because they are UK unlicensed. Effectively that means that most GPs hesitate to prescribe them (because they would be personally liable should ‘something go wrong’) and our deficient Scottish population is missing out.
4. And to see how deficient the Scottish population is look up: Zgaga et al. Diet, environmental factors and lifestyle underlie the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in healthy adults in Scotland and supplementation reduces the proportion that are severely deficient. J Nutr. 2011 Jun 22 – and – Macdonald HM, Mavroeidi A, Fraser WD, Darling AL, Black AJ, Aucott L et al. Sunlight and dietary contributions to the seasonal vitamin D status of cohorts of healthy postmenopausal women living at northerly latitudes: a major cause for concern? Osteoporosis Int. 2010 Nov 18 – and – this is confirmed by all the blood samples we took in our own general practice in Edinburgh Sighthill HC.
2012-04-16 19:14

If you need to take vitamin supplements then I suggest you do some research in to both Synthetic Vitamin and Mineral Supplements and the good high quality stuff that is extracted from plant material etc.

Also look up “Codex Alimentarious”.


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