Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rickets and the Medicis

We forget that in past times the children of the wealthy often suffered from diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies, such as rickets. Peasants, due to being outdoors and eating raw foods and coarse grains, were generally healthier. Babies of the well-to-do were sent to peasant women to be nursed. Healthy children of all classes were described as being "healthy as a peasant's child." From The Daily Mail:
Being rich and powerful was little protection to the children of the Medicis who, to the astonishment of scientists, appear to have suffered from rickets. The Medicis were among the most powerful families of the Renaissance, being patrons to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but their children still suffered malnutrition, research has indicated. Rickets is closely linked to malnutrition and poverty yet the bones of the remains of nine Medici children analysed by osteoarchaeologists reveal that they also fell victim to the condition....

The Medicis, in common with many other wealthy families, kept their young children indoors which could have prevented them from absorbing enough vitamin D from sunlight.
Swaddling babies was also commonplace and this would also have reduced their expose to sunlight.

The research team wrote: ‘The present study clearly demonstrates how, even in the high social classes, children were at the risk of developing rickets as a result of prolonged breast-feeding and inadequate exposure to sunlight.

 ‘With this prolonged breast-feeding, vitamin D deficiency is highly expected to rise, in particular if the other main risk factor, inadequate sunlight exposition, is associated with this diet based on maternal milk.

‘Two hours per week is the required minimum period of exposure to sunlight for infants if only the face is exposed.

‘During the spring and summer months, infants were likely to be exposed to sufficient sunlight to prevent vitamin D deficiency, but during the colder winter months, they probably spent less time outdoors and were bundled in several layers of protective clothing, especially when they presented frequent health problems.

‘For example, according to historical sources, Filippo was a weak and unhealthy child, suffering from recurrent illness episodes and likely to have been frequently kept indoors.

‘Furthermore, in the Renaissance period, non-ambulant children were swaddled, leaving very little skin exposed.’

Newborn babies should have enough vitamin D from their mothers at birth but, researchers suspect, the mothers may also have suffered from vitamin D deficiency, perhaps as a result of being kept indoors or their practice of wearing thick make-up to prevent them getting a tan.

‘A pale ivory skin was considered a sign of health and elegance, which distinguished noblewomen from peasants engaged in field work,’ the researchers reported in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. ‘A white skin was highly desired so that women avoided exposure to sunlight and used white powder to achieve it; one of the most popular and well-known lightening creams was Venetian Ceruse, a white powder obtained by mixing vinegar with lead, which remained popular for about 300 years.’

The Medici women were also likely to have suffered low levels of vitamin D because of repeated childbirth. (Read entire post.)
(Via tiny-librarian.) Share

1 comment:

julygirl said...

When I was a little girl and would go out to my grandparents farm in the summer, my aunt would not let us go out in the sun because she did not want us to get too 'brown'.....and I will always remember the line from "Gone With The Wind" where the 'Mammy' scolded Scarlet for not wanting to wear a hat and be in danger of looking 'like a field hand'.