What is the English disease?

The "English disease", better known as rickets, is due to a disturbance of the calcium and phosphate metabolism, due to a vitamin D deficiency. Its name is based on the first discovery in the mid-16th century in Britain. However, the "English disease" was widespread throughout Europe in the age of the Industrial Revolution, the victims were primarily children.

Vitamin D deficiency as a cause

Driven by starvation and unemployment in the fast-growing industrial cities, the poor rural population hoped to improve their miserable living conditions there. Their children, who grew up in the chimney-polluted air of the cities and were later exploited as pit or factory workers almost around the clock, saw little or no daylight or sunlight.

As a result of this, and also benefiting from chronic malnutrition, their organism was unable to produce the essential vitamin D, the precursor of which the body can synthesize itself and which is activated by UV radiation. Since it is only with the help of this vitamin, among others, the growth-important calcium in children can be solved and transported into the bones, the visual symptoms were symptomatic: bone softening, including the skull bone, chicken breast, O- or X-legs and generally severe growth disorders. This acute calcium deficiency often led to death.


A rickets prophylaxis belongs naturally today in the medical infant care. Since breast milk may not contain enough vitamin D3, babies often have to get additional and medically controlled vitamin D supplements, usually in the form of droplets, from the second week of life until the first year. Overdoses can be dangerous!

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