Scotland’s cold and cloudy climate plays a large part in causing the chronic diseases that plague its people. Scots suffer more chronic disease than almost anywhere else among former Western block countries, but this could be turned around.

For years scientists and cancer charities have told people to avoid the sun and reduce the risk of skin cancer with little regard for the fact that the sun provides the human body with life-saving vitamin D.


· People in Scotland die younger on average than almost any other western European nation.

· People in Scotland have a lower average level of vitamin D in their bodies than people in England and a higher incidence of several common chronic diseases.

· A healthy person in Europe or north America obtains more than 90 per cent of their vitamin D by exposure to the sun. Scotland’s northern location allows less opportunity for its inhabitants to expose their skin to the sun.

· Glasgow gets 400 hours less sun than London each year.

· Scotland’s health is improving, but at a slower rate than other European countries. At the present rate, Scotland will never catch up.

· Insufficient vitamin D increases the risk, and severity, of several chronic diseases including: many cancers, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes (types one and two), arthritis, bone disease, and consequent fractures. Most of these occur more frequently in Scotland than in England.

· Scotland is suffering from an epidemic of autoimmune diseases caused by a disturbed immune system that attacks the body. Insufficient vitamin D in early life appears to be an important cause of these diseases that include: multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s (an inflammatory disease of the bowel), diabetes type 1, and rheumatoid arthritis.

· Scotland has the highest percentage of people with multiple sclerosis of any country in the world. MS is now considered to be caused by insufficient exposure to sunshine, resulting in low levels of vitamin D, in early life.

· The lack of vitamin D in the Scottish population needs the same urgent attention that the government is giving to reduction of smoking, alcoholism and obesity. Scottish people could boost their vitamin D intake if cheap supplements were available or if food was fortified with the vitamin.

· Mistaken advice by the government in London and the charity Cancer Research UK to avoid exposure to the sun between 11 am and 3pm can only have helped to push down average levels of vitamin D in the past. New official advice is needed to encourage people to sunbathe – without burning, since burning appears to be the major risk factor for skin cancer rather than simple exposure to the sun.

· At present, Health Protection Scotland, the body charged by the Scottish Executive to strengthen and co-ordinate health protection in the country, does not mention the benefits of vitamin D and sunshine, or the problem of vitamin D insufficiency in Scotland, on its website.

In a new book published on 19th September, Oliver Gillie calls for an urgent review of the country’s health policy by the Scottish government. He says that insufficient vitamin D in the body increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, as well as bone disease and fractures.

Healthy people receive more than 90 per cent of vitamin D by exposure of the skin to sun, but because of Scotland’s short summer season and persistent cold weather its people have lower vitamin D levels in their bodies than the rest of Britain.

For decades Scotland’s high incidence of chronic disease and low mortality compared to England and other European countries has been blamed on smoking, alcohol, poor diet and poverty. Successive investigations into the problem have failed to consider the vitamin D factor.

Oliver Gillie, director of the Health Research Forum and former medical journalist, says that issuing vitamin D supplements and boosting its content in food, plus better advice on exposure to the sun could dramatically reduce the amount of chronic disease in Scotland at relatively low cost. The Scottish government could help by allowing the import of high strength vitamin D tablets and allowing a health claim to be made for foods such as milk, orange juice and bread if they are fortified with vitamin D.

Oliver Gillie’s book is available as a free download online at: