The Atlantic

A Tortured Love of Vitamin D

Why it may never be possible to recommend that everyone take a supplement—as much as people want to believe
Source: Bettmann / Getty

Before there was Vitaminwater, there was vitamin beer. In 1936, the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company promised that its Sunshine Vitamin D Beer would “give you the vitamin D you need for year round vigorous health.” One ad explained: “Modern living; clothing; clouds and smoke; hours spent indoors—rob us of sunshine benefits.” So, proposing to overcome the evils of modernity with yet more modernity, everyone should “drink it each day for health.”

If someone asked why you were now drinking daily, well, it’s because of the clouds and the clothing.

Certainty of the benefits of vitamin D supplements has grown murkier in the ensuing century. Except for the promise that the beer can had a “scientific lining,” Schlitz’s claims were threadbare. All that was really known at the time was that this newly discovered

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