SOLAR ultraviolet radiation and vitamin D: a historical perspective

Am J Public Health. 2007 Oct;97(10):1746-54. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2006.091736. Epub 2007 Aug 29.


Rickets, the state of vitamin D deficiency, has reemerged as a potential problem in the United States. At the dawn of the 20th century, rickets was pervasive among infants residing in the polluted cities of Europe and the northeastern United States. Important milestones in the history of rickets were the understanding that photosynthesized vitamin D and dietary vitamin D were similar, the discernment of the antirachitic potency of artificial and natural ultraviolet rays, and the discovery that ultraviolet irradiation could render various foods antirachitic. Clinical guidelines were instituted to promote sensible exposure to sunlight and artificial ultraviolet radiation. In addition, irradiated ergosterol from yeast became the major vitamin D source for food fortification and the treatment of rickets, leading to a public health campaign to eradicate rickets by the 1930s. We review the sequence and turn of events pertaining to the discovery of vitamin D and the strategies for the eradication of the reemerging rickets problem.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bone Density Conservation Agents / history*
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents / therapeutic use
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Rickets / drug therapy
  • Rickets / history*
  • Rickets / prevention & control
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / history*
  • United States
  • Vitamin D / history*
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use


  • Bone Density Conservation Agents
  • Vitamin D