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Vitamin D and the ‘Scottish Paradox’

Posted on: January 12, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD

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Scotland has some of the highest disease rates in the world. In fact, the disease rates are so dramatic in Scotland compared to the rest of Great Britain, researchers call the phenomenon the ‘Scottish paradox,’ marveling as to why the rates are so much higher when the lifestyles are so similar. Does vitamin D play a role?

Readers may remember a 2005 newsletter I wrote, Paradigms and Paradoxes, but I didn’t include the Scottish paradox. Oliver Gillie, who does in Great Britain what the Vitamin D Council is trying to do in the USA, has written a wonderful paper on paradoxes, including the Italian paradox, the Swiss paradox and of course, the Scottish paradox.

Gillie O.The Scots’ Paradox: Can Sun Exposure, or Lack of it, Explain Major Paradoxes in Epidemiology? Anticancer Res. 2012 Jan;32(1):237-48.

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3 Responses to Vitamin D and the ‘Scottish Paradox’

  1. Frederica Huxley

    Does Oliver Gillie also mention the Scots sweet tooth? Go into any supermarket north of the border and count the aisles full of sweet foods – many more than down south!
    I wonder whether this predilection has any bearing on the Scottish Paradox – one doesn’t hear of the Copenhagen or Moscow Paradox, even though both cities are close to 55ºN.

  2. MURPHY

    If the Scots got more vitamin D3, via sunshine or supplementation, would their “sweet teeth” be less demanding? Is a “sweet tooth” is a larger-than-normal desire for comfort food that’s associated with people who are D3 deficient?

  3. John

    I’ve chewed on this one for a long time (pun)! A sweet tooth comes from depression, as I have it figured. Depression is a survival adaptation, not mental illness. When you look at a list of symptoms, one can immediately see that every one helps a (prehistoric) person get through the winter alive. Pessimism leads to preparation, low energy to conservation of same, perfectionism maximizes survival efforts, hostility (Go away! We are NOT having a party with the food I worked all summer to put away), sadness (when she’s crying they won’t be using energy having sex or romping in the snow), etc. Sugars, like other carbohydrates, used to be totally unavailable in the winter when things stopped growing. That changed when humans began to raise and store crops about 10,000 years ago, but 10,000 years is only 1/4 of 1% of our time on the planet, so we are adapted to winters without carbs. Since reduced carbs was a dependable sign of winter, it became a signal to bring on the depression we needed to survive. Ditto lack of light from shorter days and cloudier skies. In spring plants grow again and we resume eating carbs, the days get longer and sunny skies appear. Depression lifts. We invented the light box, antidepressants, and Oreos to fool our bodies into believing spring has arrived to reduce our depression.

    I would expect the desire for carbs to be greater the higher the degree of one’s depression. The places where it is greatest would be the places with the least light, one of which is Scotland. The Scottish are so well known to have a high degree of depression that Saturday Night Live once did a skit about a Scottish shop merchant who was very hostile and yelled at all his customers.

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