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Acta Reumatol Port. 2007 Jul-Sep;32(3):205-29.

[Brief history of rickets and of the discovery of vitamin D].

[Article in Portuguese]

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Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa, Unidade de Biopatologia Vascular do Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Avenida Prof. Egas Moniz, 1649-028 Lisbon, Portugal.


Almost eighteen centuries mediated between the first cases of rickets, reported by Soranus and Galeno, and the clarification of the disease aetiology. Due to the outbreak of rickets verified in the 17th century in England, the situation was known as the 'English disease', being its first detailed description presented by Francis Glisson. The growing incidence of rickets with the Industrial Revolution raised speculations about its origin and treatment. The characterization of solar light and luminous spectrum led to the identification of the biological effects of ultraviolet radiation, and to the discovery of phototherapy as an alternative therapeutic process to the solar irradiation. The experimental rickets achieved by Mellanby and McCollum gave support to the concept that this situation could have an origin in a dietary defect. It was also referred an inverse relationship between sun exposure and the incidence of rickets. The identification of the chemical nature of an essential dietary factor with anti-rickets effect (ergocalciferol or vitamin D2), together with another factor with identical properties, but more potent, produced in the skin exposed to sunlight (cholecalciferol or vitamin D3), was essential to the elucidation, prevention and therapy of the disease. The present revision summarizes the history of rickets, the characterization and anti-rickets properties of the light and dietary supplements of lipid nature, and the identification of the major biological forms of vitamin D.

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