Osteoporosis International

, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 2461–2472 | Cite as

Sunlight and dietary contributions to the seasonal vitamin D status of cohorts of healthy postmenopausal women living at northerly latitudes: a major cause for concern?

  • H. M. Macdonald
  • A. Mavroeidi
  • W. D. Fraser
  • A. L. Darling
  • A. J. Black
  • L. Aucott
  • F. O’Neill
  • K. Hart
  • J. L. Berry
  • S. A. Lanham-New
  • D. M. Reid
Original Article



We assessed sunlight and dietary contributions to vitamin D status in British postmenopausal women. Our true longitudinal 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) measurements varied seasonally, being lower in the north compared to the south and lower in Asian women. Sunlight exposure in summer and spring provided 80% total annual intake of vitamin D.


Vitamin D deficiency is highlighted as a potential problem for countries at high latitude, but there are few true longitudinal, seasonal data to allow regional comparisons. We aimed to directly compare seasonal variation in vitamin D status (25(OH)D) in postmenopausal women at two northerly latitudes and to assess the relative contributions of sunlight exposure and diet.


Vitamin D status was assessed in 518 postmenopausal women (age 55–70 years) in a two-centre cohort study with serum collected at fixed three-monthly intervals from summer 2006 for immunoassay measurement of 25(OH)D and parathyroid hormone. At 57° N (Aberdeen, Scotland, UK), there were 338 Caucasian women; at 51° N (Surrey, South of England, UK), there were 144 Caucasian women and 35 Asian women. UVB exposure (polysulphone film badges) and dietary vitamin D intakes (food diaries) were also estimated.


Caucasian women had lower 25(OH)D (p < 0.001) at 57° N compared to 51° N. Median (interquartile range) in nanomoles per litre for summer (June–August) at 57° N was 43.0 (20.9) and at 51° N was 62.5 (26.6) and for winter (December–February) at 57° N was 28.3 (18.9) and at 51° N was 39.9 (24.0). For Asian women at 51° N, median 25(OH)D was 24.0 (15.8) nmol/L in summer and 16.9 (15.9) nmol/L in winter. Median dietary vitamin D intakes were 80–100 IU for Caucasians and 50–65 IU for the Asian women. Sunlight was the main contributor to 25(OH)D with spring and summer providing >80% total annual intake.


These longitudinal data show significant regional and ethnic differences in UVB exposure and vitamin D status for postmenopausal women at northerly latitudes. The numbers of women who are vitamin D deficient is a major concern and public health problem.


Dietary vitamin D Longitudinal study Postmenopausal women Regional vitamin D status Seasonal 25-hydroxyvitamin D Sunlight exposure 

Supplementary material

198_2010_1467_MOESM1_ESM.doc (26 kb)
ESM 1(DOC 26 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Osteoporosis Foundation and National Osteoporosis Foundation 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. M. Macdonald
    • 1
    • 5
  • A. Mavroeidi
    • 1
  • W. D. Fraser
    • 2
  • A. L. Darling
    • 3
  • A. J. Black
    • 1
  • L. Aucott
    • 1
  • F. O’Neill
    • 1
  • K. Hart
    • 3
  • J. L. Berry
    • 4
  • S. A. Lanham-New
    • 3
  • D. M. Reid
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Department of Musculoskeletal BiologyUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Nutritional Sciences Division, Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  4. 4.Vitamin D Research Group, Department of MedicineManchester Royal InfirmaryManchesterUK
  5. 5.Musculoskeletal Research, Health Sciences BuildingUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK

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