Osteoporosis International

, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 1523–1528 | Cite as

Skeletal and hormonal responses to sunlight deprivation in Antarctic expeditioners

  • S. Iuliano-BurnsEmail author
  • X. F. Wang
  • J. Ayton
  • G. Jones
  • E. Seeman
Original Article



Serum 25(OH)D levels decline without sunlight exposure. We studied 120 expeditioners to Antarctica to determine the skeletal and hormonal responses to sunlight deprivation. With emerging vitamin D insufficiency, serum calcium decreased, PTH increased, and bone loss at the proximal femur was observed. Baseline serum 25(OH)D levels >100 nmol/L prevented vitamin D insufficiency.


Vitamin D stores deplete without adequate sunlight exposure unless supplementation is provided. We studied 120 healthy adults who spent a year in Antarctica as a model for sunlight deprivation to define the timing and magnitude of the skeletal and hormonal responses to emerging vitamin D insufficiency.


Fasting blood samples were assessed at baseline, 6 and 12 months for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), osteocalcin (OC), bone formation (P1NP) and resorption (CTx), PTH and calcium. Lumbar spine and proximal femur BMD was measured using DXA. Differences over time were determined using repeated measures ANOVA. Percent changes were expressed as (Δ value/(value A + value B)/2) × 100. Relationships between outcome measures were determined using Spearman’s correlations.


Vitamin D insufficiency (<50 nmol/L) was observed in 85% of expeditioners by 6 months when serum calcium decreased and PTH increased (p < 0.01). By 12 months, OC increased by 7.4 ± 3.0% (p < 0.05), and BMD decreased by 1.0 ± 2.0% at the total proximal femur (p < 0.05). For those with vitamin D sufficiency at baseline (>50 nmol/L), sunlight deprivation produced vitamin D insufficiency within 4 months unless baseline values were >100 nmol/L.


Supplementation may be necessary for expeditioners with limited access to UV light.


Bone loss Sunlight Vitamin D 



The authors thank Robin Taylor, Dr. Roland Watzl and Melissa Kingston (AAD), research nurses Kylie King and Judy Tan (Austin Health), Antarctic medical practitioners Drs. Tanya Kelly, Andy Williams, Malcolm Arnold, John Birss, Graham Denyer, James Double, Jim Bumak, and Lloyd Fletcher, Drs. Colin Roy, Stuart Henderson, and Peter Gies (ARPANSA) for use of UV data, Suzanne Sparshott, Rose Ford, and Furley Johston (Menzies) and Jane Karpavicius, Tanya Mewbury, and Mary-Kate Inkster (Monash University).


This project was support by Australian Antarctic Science grants.

Conflicts of interest



  1. 1.
    Lips P, Duong T, Oleksik A, Black D, Cummings S, Cox D, Nickelsen T (2001) A global study of vitamin D status and parathyroid function in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis: baseline data from the multiple outcomes of raloxifene evaluation clinical trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 86(3):1212–1221PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rapuri PB, Kinyamu HK, Gallagher JC, Haynatzka V (2002) Seasonal changes in calciotropic hormones, bone markers, and bone mineral density in elderly women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 87(5):2024–2032PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Pasco JA, Henry MJ, Kotowicz MA, Sanders KM, Seeman E, Pasco JR, Schneider HG, Nicholson GC (2004) Seasonal periodicity of serum vitamin D and parathyroid hormone, bone resorption, and fractures: the Geelong Osteoporosis Study. J Bone Miner Res 19(5):752–758PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Levis S, Gomez A, Jimenez C, Veras L, Ma F, Lai S, Hollis B, Roos BA (2005) Vitamin d deficiency and seasonal variation in an adult South Florida population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 90(3):1557–1562PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Parfitt AM, Rao DS, Stanciu J, Villanueva AR, Kleerekoper M, Frame B (1985) Irreversible bone loss in osteomalacia. Comparison of radial photon absorptiometry with iliac bone histomorphometry during treatment. J Clin Invest 76(6):2403–2412PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Holick MF (1994) McCollum Award Lecture, 1994: vitamin D—new horizons for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 60(4):619–6130PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Seeman E (2003) Reduced bone formation and increased bone resorption: rational targets for the treatment of osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int 14(Suppl 3):S2–S8PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pitson GA, Lugg DJ, Roy CR (1996) Effect of seasonal ultraviolet radiation fluctuations on vitamin D homeostasis during an Antarctic expedition. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 72(3):231–234PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Oliveri B, Zeni S, Lorenzetti MP, Aguilar G, Mautalen C (1999) Effect of one year residence in Antarctica on bone mineral metabolism and body composition. Eur J Clin Nutr 53(2):88–91PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Oliveri MB, Mautalen C, Bustamante L, Gomez Garcia V (1994) Serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in a year of residence on the Antarctic continent. Eur J Clin Nutr 48(6):397–401PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Yonei T, Hagino H, Katagiri H, Kishimoto H (1999) Bone metabolic changes in Antarctic wintering team members. Bone 24(2):145–150PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Zerath E, Holy X, Gaud R, Schmitt D (1999) Decreased serum levels of 1,25-(OH)2 vitamin D during 1 year of sunlight deprivation in the Antarctic. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 79(2):141–147PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Working group of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia (2005) Vitamin D and adult bone health in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement. Med J Aust 182(6):281–285Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Garnero P, Borel O, Delmas PD (2001) Evaluation of a fully automated serum assay for C-terminal cross-linking telopeptide of type I collagen in osteoporosis. Clin Chem 47(4):694–702PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Bass S, Delmas PD, Pearce G, Hendrich E, Tabensky A, Seeman E (1999) The differing tempo of growth in bone size, mass, and density in girls is region-specific. [see comments.]. J Clin Invest 104(6):795–804PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Hopper JL, Seeman E (1994) The bone density of female twins discordant for tobacco use. N Engl J Med 330(6):387–392PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Storm D, Eslin R, Porter ES, Musgrave K, Vereault D, Patton C, Kessenich C, Mohan S, Chen T, Holick MF, Rosen CJ (1998) Calcium supplementation prevents seasonal bone loss and changes in biochemical markers of bone turnover in elderly New England women: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 83(11):3817–3825PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lips P (2001) Vitamin D deficiency and secondary hyperparathyroidism in the elderly: consequences for bone loss and fractures and therapeutic implications. Endocr Rev 22(4):477–501PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sato Y, Iwamoto J, Kanoko T, Satoh K (2005) Amelioration of osteoporosis and hypovitaminosis D by sunlight exposure in hospitalized, elderly women with Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res 20(8):1327–1333PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Chapuy MC, Arlot ME, Duboeuf F, Brun J, Crouzet B, Arnaud S, Delmas PD, Meunier PJ (1992) Vitamin D3 and calcium to prevent hip fractures in the elderly women. N Engl J Med 327(23):1637–1642PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Holick MF (2007) Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med 357(3):266–281PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Gies P, Javorniczky J, Roy C, Ayton J, Watzl R, Cooley H, Kingston M (2006) Measurement of the UVR Exposures of Expeditioners on Antarctic Resupply Voyages National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research UV Workshop-UV Radiation and its Effects:an Update, Dunedin, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Lenora J, Ivaska KK, Obrant KJ, Gerdhem P (2007) Prediction of bone loss using biochemical markers of bone turnover. Osteoporos Int 18(9):1297–1305PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Zhu K, Devine A, Dick IM, Wilson SG, Prince RL (2007) Effects of calcium and vitamin D supplementation on hip bone mineral density and calcium-related analytes in elderly ambulatory Australian women: a 5-year randomized controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 93:852–860CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Garnero P, Munoz F, Sornay-Rendu E, Delmas PD (2007) Associations of vitamin D status with bone mineral density, bone turnover, bone loss and fracture risk in healthy postmenopausal women. The OFELY study. Bone 40(3):716–722PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Samanek AJ, Croager EJ, Giesfor Skin Cancer Prevention P, Milne E, Prince R, McMichael AJ, Lucas RM, Slevin T (2006) Estimates of beneficial and harmful sun exposure times during the year for major Australian population centres. Med J Aust 184(7):338–341PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Grover SR, Morley R (2001) Vitamin D deficiency in veiled or dark-skinned pregnant women. Med J Aust 175(5):251–252PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, Dietrich T, Dawson-Hughes B (2006) Estimation of optimal serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for multiple health outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr 84(1):18–28PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Vecino-Vecino C, Gratton M, Kremer R, Rodriguez-Manas L, Duque G (2006) Seasonal variance in serum levels of vitamin d determines a compensatory response by parathyroid hormone: study in an ambulatory elderly population in Quebec. Gerontology 52(1):33–39PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Osteoporosis Foundation and National Osteoporosis Foundation 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Iuliano-Burns
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • X. F. Wang
    • 1
  • J. Ayton
    • 2
  • G. Jones
    • 3
  • E. Seeman
    • 1
  1. 1.Austin HealthUniversity of MelbourneWest HeidelbergAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Antarctic DivisionKingstonAustralia
  3. 3.Menzies Research InstituteHobartAustralia
  4. 4.Endocrine Centre of Excellence, Heidelberg Repatriation HospitalAustin HealthWest HeidelbergAustralia

Personalised recommendations