, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 1641-1648
Date: 19 Jul 2005

Determinants of vitamin D status in older women living in a subtropical climate

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Studies performed in the Northern Hemisphere and in areas distant from the equator have demonstrated significant seasonal variation in 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) levels. Whether such variation occurs in a subtropical area such as Australasia is not clear. We performed a cross-sectional study of 1,606 healthy, postmenopausal women recruited over a 33-month period. The study had three goals: to determine the normal levels of 25OHD in healthy postmenopausal women living in Auckland, New Zealand; to determine whether seasonal variation of 25OHD occurs at this latitude; to assess the relationship between 25OHD, biochemical indices, anthropometric variables and bone mineral density (BMD). We found significant seasonal variation in 25OHD levels, with the change in monthly ultraviolet dose from summer to winter being followed 6–8 weeks later by a corresponding change in 25OHD levels. Vitamin D insufficiency (25OHD <50 nmol/l) was common. During summer, 28–58% of participants had suboptimal vitamin D status, while in winter, the frequency increased to 56–74%. 25OHD levels correlated with participants’ age (r=−0.15), weight (r=−0.11), body mass index (r=−0.13), fat mass (r=−0.14), percentage body fat (r=−0.16), physical activity (r=0.10) and the month of blood sampling (all P<0.0001). Collectively, age, fat mass, physical activity, and month of sampling explained 21% of the variance in 25OHD. No significant relationships were noted between 25OHD and BMD at any site. Other variables that showed significant monthly variation were glucose (P=0.002), serum phosphate, alkaline phosphatase, and albumin (all P<0.0001). There was no monthly variation in BMD at the lumbar spine or proximal femur. In conclusion, there is significant seasonal variation in 25OHD levels, even in a subtropical climate. Furthermore, despite generous amounts of sunlight, considerable numbers of women have suboptimal vitamin D status, even in summer. Our findings support the suggestion that vitamin D supplementation should become standard practice in this population of women, particularly during winter.

Jenny A. Lucas and Mark J. Bolland contributed equally to this work.