December 30, 2013
WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE
The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) has grown to become today’s most popular sport among America’s youth. The sport features amazing athletes battling it out in an octagon, where competitors must combine high-level grappling skills, striking skills, fitness and a strong ground game to achieve victory. Anderson Silva (aka “the Spider”) has been one of the most dominant fighters of all time, but his leg shattered in last night’s fight as he struck Chris Weidman’s knee with his shin. No one seems to understand why this happened, but as a nutrition scientist, I am confident of the underlying cause: Chronic vitamin D deficiency leading to fragile bones.
I am a fan of Silva and his personal philosophies, courage and dedication, so this is not a criticism of Silva. This is an explanation that all UFC athletes need to hear:
Anderson Silva is a Brazilian fighter with a tall, lean frame. Like many UFC fighters, he has dark skin pigmentation, but almost no one in the UFC realizes that dark skin pigmentation interferes with vitamin D creation in response to UV rays from sunlight. Dark skin is, essentially, a built-in “sunscreen” biological mechanism that blocks UV radiation, and that’s precisely why dark-skinned people originate from geographical areas closest to the equator (because sunlight is far more intense there).
As a result of this, nearly all dark-skinned people are chronically vitamin D deficient, especially if they spend a lot of time indoors (in gyms, working in offices, etc.). Taking vitamin D supplements can reverse this situation, but many people don’t realize they’re deficient and fail to take sufficient quantities supplements. Many vitamin D supplements also provide far too little vitamin D to support bone density.
Chronic vitamin D deficiency causes bones to become fragile. What happens is that a lack of vitamin D greatly reduces the body’s absorption and uptake of dietary calcium, strontium and other trace elements which build bone material. This is why nearly everyone with low vitamin D also has low bone density.
I have seen this very frequently among dark-skinned athletes who train and compete in mostly indoor settings. They tend to break their bones far more frequently than fair-skinned athletes who unknowingly are getting more UV radiation and therefore more vitamin D creation when they are exposed to sunlight. (For the record, your skin actually generates vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. It’s one of the few vitamins your body actually generates.)
But weak bones can also give UFC fighters a power-to-weight advantage
There’s a strange upside to vitamin D deficiency in UFC fighting, however: fragile bones are also light bones, meaning the skeletal system is much lighter than it would be if the person had higher bone density.
A person with chronic vitamin D deficiency and fragile bones might be described as having “bird bones.” All birds have bones which are, by design, extremely lightweight and also fragile. This aids birds in achieving and sustaining flight with maximum caloric efficiency. At the same time, however, birds are very easy to crush because their bones have very little stress resistance (compared to the bones of land animals).
So a UFC fighter who has very weak bones also has lightweight bones, and this means they can pack on more muscle in proportion to their skeletal system while still meeting the required weight limit for the fight. I strongly suspect that Anderson Silva has been fighting this way for years: heavy on the muscle but light on the bones. It allowed him a higher power-to-weight ration which, combined with his unusually long legs, gave him enormous tactical advantages in the ring. He could out-reach most opponents and also out-strike them. His extraordinary coordination and athleticism further compounded the effectiveness of all this, and that’s a big part of why he went undefeated for so long.
But this power-to-weight advantage is also a weakness. Fragile bones are, essentially, a “chink in the armor.” One kick shattered Silva’s lower leg and literally separated the bones of his lower leg from the bones extending from his knee. If you look closely in the feature photo of this story, you can see that Silva’s lower shin bones are no longer attached to his upper shin bones. Only the skin is keeping it attached. The bones have completely separated.
This demonstrates the striking disadvantage of fighting with low bone mass density caused by chronic vitamin D deficiency. One wrong kick and your career can be finished. Anderson Silva will probably never fight professionally again (which is sad to see because he’s such an outstanding athlete).
In summary: What every UFC fighter needs to know about vitamin D
Dark skin pigmentation = low vitamin D creation = low bone density = light skeletal system but fragile weakness of the bones.
Lighter skin or high vitamin D supplementation = high bone density = heavy skeletal system with high resistance to fracturing.
Most UFC fighters are fighting with chronic vitamin D deficiency, and this is especially true among those with dark skin whose biology naturally blocks UV light. It’s easy to get your bone density checked, by the way, at a doctor’s office who deals with osteoporosis. There’s a simple device that uses ultrasound to determine the bone density of your feet and ankles. This tells you whether your bones have a healthy density.
Watch my video below for a more detailed explanation about sunlight, vitamin D, skin cancer, dark skin pigmentation and more: