Rickets Still Around and Still a Problem

Rickets has declined in frequency but it is still a problem.

Rickets is a disease of infants and children. It disturbs normal bone formation (ossification). Rickets results in inadequate mineralization in bone. This softens bone (producing osteomalacia) and permits marked bending and distortion of bones.

Up through the first third of the 20th century, rickets was largely due to lack of exposure to sunlight or lack of vitamin D in foods such as dairy products. Sunlight provides the ultraviolet rays necessary for the natural production of vitamin D in our skin. These rays do not pass through ordinary window glass.

Once the role of vitamin D in rickets was discovered, cod liver oil (which is rich in vitamin D) became a favored, if not too tasty, remedy. Thanks to such supplements of vitamin D, nutritional rickets has become relatively rare in industrialized nations.

Nutritional rickets still occurs, for example, in breast- fed babies whose mothers are underexposed to sunlight and in dark-skinned babies who are not given vitamin D supplements (the dark skin blocks the UV rays). In some unindustrialized countries, vitamin D deficiency rickets continues to be a major problem.

Rickets in industrialized countries now is usually due to other causes, namely:

  • Disorders that create vitamin D deficiency by interfering with the absorption of vitamin D through the intestines.
  • Diseases (for example, of the liver or kidney) that impair the normal metabolic conversion and activation of vitamin D.
  • Conditions that disrupt the normal balance of calcium and phosphorus in the body.