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Open access

Vitamin D testing and treatment: a narrative review of current evidence

Stefan Pilz, Armin Zittermann, Christian Trummer, Verena Theiler-Schwetz, Elisabeth Lerchbaum, Martin H Keppel, Martin R Grübler, Winfried März, and Marlene Pandis

Vitamin D testing and treatment is a subject of controversial scientific discussions, and it is challenging to navigate through the expanding vitamin D literature with heterogeneous and partially opposed opinions and recommendations. In this narrative review, we aim to provide an update on vitamin D guidelines and the current evidence on the role of vitamin D for human health with its subsequent implications for patient care and public health issues. Vitamin D is critical for bone and mineral metabolism, and it is established that vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets and osteomalacia. While many guidelines recommend target serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) concentrations of ≥50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL), the minimum consensus in the scientific community is that serum 25(OH)D concentrations below 25–30 nmol/L (10–12 ng/mL) must be prevented and treated. Using this latter threshold of serum 25(OH)D concentrations, it has been documented that there is a high worldwide prevalence of vitamin D deficiency that may require public health actions such as vitamin D food fortification. On the other hand, there is also reason for concern that an exploding rate of vitamin D testing and supplementation increases costs and might potentially be harmful. In the scientific debate on vitamin D, we should consider that nutrient trials differ from drug trials and that apart from the opposed positions regarding indications for vitamin D treatment we still have to better characterize the precise role of vitamin D for human health.

Open access

100 YEARS OF VITAMIN D: Historical aspects of vitamin D

Glenville Jones

Vitamin D has many physiological functions including upregulation of intestinal calcium and phosphate absorption, mobilization of bone resorption, renal reabsorption of calcium as well as actions on a variety of pleiotropic functions. It is believed that many of the hormonal effects of vitamin D involve a 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3-vitamin D receptor-mediated transcriptional mechanism involving binding to the cellular chromatin and regulating hundreds of genes in many tissues. This comprehensive historical review provides a unique perspective of the many steps of the discovery of vitamin D and its deficiency disease, rickets, stretching from 1650 until the present. The overview is divided into four distinct historical phases which cover the major developments in the field and in the process highlighting the: (a) first recognition of rickets or vitamin D deficiency; (b) discovery of the nutritional factor, vitamin D and its chemical structure; (c) elucidation of vitamin D metabolites including the hormonal form, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3; (d) delineation of the vitamin D cellular machinery, functions and vitamin D-related diseases which focused on understanding the mechanism of action of vitamin D in its many target cells.

Open access

Vitamin D and musculoskeletal health: outstanding aspects to be considered in the light of current evidence

Marcela Moraes Mendes, Patricia Borges Botelho, and Helena Ribeiro

Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption and bone mineralisation, promotes maintenance of muscle function, and is crucial for musculoskeletal health. Low vitamin D status triggers secondary hyperparathyroidism, increases bone loss, and leads to muscle weakness. The primary physiologic function of vitamin D and its metabolites is maintaining calcium homeostasis for metabolic functioning, signal transduction, and neuromuscular activity. A considerable amount of human evidence supports the well-recognised contribution of adequate serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations for bone homeostasis maintenance and prevention and treatment strategies for osteoporosis when combined with adequate calcium intake. This paper aimed to review the literature published, mainly in the last 20 years, on the effect of vitamin D and its supplementation for musculoskeletal health in order to identify the aspects that remain unclear or controversial and therefore require further investigation and debate. There is a clear need for consistent data to establish realistic and meaningful recommendations of vitamin D status that consider different population groups and locations. Moreover, there is still a lack of consensus on thresholds for vitamin D deficiency and optimal status as well as toxicity, optimal intake of vitamin D, vitamin D supplement alone as a strategy to prevent fractures and falls, recommended sun exposure at different latitudes and for different skin pigmentations, and the extra skeletal effects of vitamin D.

Open access

Why do so many trials of vitamin D supplementation fail?

Barbara J Boucher

Our knowledge of vitamin D has come a long way since the 100 years it took for doctors to accept, between 1860 and 1890, that both sunlight and cod liver oil (a well-known folk remedy) cured and prevented rickets. Vitamins D2/D3 were discovered exactly a hundred years ago, and over the last 50 years vitamin D has been found to have many effects on virtually all human tissues and not just on bone health, while mechanisms affecting the actions of vitamin D at the cellular level are increasingly understood, but deficiency persists globally. Observational studies in humans have shown that better provision of vitamin D is strongly associated, dose-wise, with reductions in current and future health risks in line with the known actions of vitamin D. Randomised controlled trials, commonly accepted as providing a ‘gold standard’ for assessing the efficacy of new forms of treatment, have frequently failed to provide supportive evidence for the expected health benefits of supplementation. Such RCTs, however, have used designs evolved for testing drugs while vitamin D is a nutrient; the appreciation of this difference is critical to identifying health benefits from existing RCT data and for improving future RCT design. This report aims, therefore, to provide a brief overview of the evidence for a range of non-bony health benefits of vitamin D repletion; to discuss specific aspects of vitamin D biology that can confound RCT design and how to allow for them.

Open access

Interactions between FGF23 and vitamin D

Mohammed S Razzaque

Fibroblast growth factor‐23 (FGF23) controls the homeostasis of both phosphate and vitamin D. Bone-derived FGF23 can suppress the transcription of 1α‐hydroxylase (1α(OH)ase) to reduce renal activation of vitamin D (1,25(OH)2D3). FGF23 can also activate the transcription of 24‐hydroxylase to enhance the renal degradation process of vitamin D. There is a counter-regulation for FGF23 and vitamin D; 1,25(OH)2D3 induces the skeletal synthesis and the release of FGF23, while FGF23 can suppress the production of 1,25(OH)2D3 by inhibiting 1α(OH)ase synthesis. Genetically ablating FGF23 activities in mice resulted in higher levels of renal 1α(OH)ase, which is also reflected in an increased level of serum 1,25(OH)2D3, while genetically ablating 1α(OH)ase activities in mice reduced the serum levels of FGF23. Similar feedback control of FGF23 and vitamin D is also detected in various human diseases. Further studies are required to understand the subcellular molecular regulation of FGF23 and vitamin D in health and disease.

Open access

Cholecalciferol supplementation effectively improved tertiary hyperparathyroidism, FGF23 resistance and lowered coronary calcification score: a prospective study

Shu-Meng Hu, Yang-Juan Bai, Ya-Mei Li, Ye Tao, Xian-Ding Wang, Tao Lin, Lan-Lan Wang, and Yun-Ying Shi


Tertiary hyperparathyroidism (THPT) and vitamin D deficiency are commonly seen in kidney transplant recipients, which may result in persistently elevated fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23) level after transplantation and decreased graft survival. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effect of vitamin D supplementation on THPT, FGF23-alpha Klotho (KLA) axis and cardiovascular complications after transplantation.

Materials and methods

Two hundred nine kidney transplant recipients were included and further divided into treated and untreated groups depending on whether they received vitamin D supplementation. We tracked the state of THPT, bone metabolism and FGF23–KLA axis within 12 months posttransplant and explored the predictors and risk factors for intact FGF23 levels, KLA levels, THPT and cardiovascular complications in recipients.


Vitamin D supplementation significantly improved FGF23 resistance, THPT and high bone turnover status, preserved better graft function and prevented coronary calcification in the treated group compared to the untreated group at month 12. The absence of vitamin D supplementation was an independent risk factor for THPT and a predictor for intact FGF23 and KLA levels at month 12. Age and vitamin D deficiency were independent risk factors for coronary calcification in recipients at month 12.


Vitamin D supplementation effectively improved THPT, FGF23 resistance and bone metabolism, preserved graft function and prevented coronary calcification after transplantation.

Open access

Directly measured free and total 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in relation to metabolic health in multi-ethnic postmenopausal females in Saudi Arabia

Shatha Alharazy, M Denise Robertson, Susan Lanham-New, Muhammad Imran Naseer, Adeel G Chaudhary, and Eman Alissa


Measurement of free 25-hydroyvitamin D (25(OH)D) status has been suggested as a more representative marker of vitamin D status than that of total 25(OH)D. Previously, free 25(OH)D could only be calculated indirectly; however, a newly developed direct assay for the measurement of free 25(OH)D is now available. The aim of this study therefore was to investigate directly measured total and free vitamin D levels association with metabolic health in postmenopausal healthy women living in Saudi Arabia.


A sample of 302 postmenopausal women aged ≥50 years (n  = 302) living in Saudi Arabia were recruited in a cross-sectional study design. Blood samples were collected from subjects for measurement of serum levels of total 25(OH)D, directly measured free 25(OH)D, metabolic bone parameters, lipid profile, and other biochemical tests.


A positive correlation was found between directly measured free and total 25(OH)D (r = 0.64, P< 0.0001). Total but not free 25(OH)D showed significant association with serum intact parathyroid hormone (P = 0.004), whilst free 25(OH)D but not total 25(OH)D showed a significant association with total cholesterol and LDL-C (P = 0.032 and P = 0.045, respectively).


Free 25(OH)D and total 25(OH)D were found to be consistently correlated but with different associations to metabolic health parameters. Further research is needed to determine which marker of vitamin D status would be the most appropriate in population studies.

Open access

100 YEARS OF VITAMIN D: Supraphysiological doses of vitamin D changes brainwave activity patterns in rats

Gabriella Oliveira Lima, Alex Luiz Menezes da Silva, Julianne Elba Cunha Azevedo, Chirlene Pinheiro Nascimento, Luana Rodrigues Vieira, Akira Otake Hamoy, Luan Oliveira Ferreira, Verônica Regina Lobato Oliveira Bahia, Nilton Akio Muto, Dielly Catrina Favacho Lopes, and Moisés Hamoy

Low plasma levels of vitamin D causes bone mineral change that can precipitate osteopenia and osteoporosis and could aggravate autoimmune diseases, hypertension and diabetes. The demand for vitamin D supplementation becomes necessary; however, the consumption of vitamin D is not without risks, which its toxicity could have potentially serious consequences related to hypervitaminosis D, such as hypercalcemia and cerebral alterations. Thus, the present study describes the electroencephalographic changes caused by supraphysiological doses of vitamin D in the brain electrical dynamics and the electrocardiographic changes. After 4 days of treatment with vitamin D at a dose of 25,000 IU/kg, the serum calcium levels found were increased in comparison with the control group. The electrocorticogram analysis found a reduction in wave activity in the delta, theta, alpha and beta frequency bands. For ECG was observed changes with shortened QT follow-up, which could be related to serum calcium concentration. This study presented important evidence about the cerebral and cardiac alterations caused by high doses of vitamin D, indicating valuable parameters in the screening and decision-making process for diagnosing patients with symptoms suggestive of intoxication.

Open access

Autoimmune disease and interconnections with vitamin D

Jane Fletcher, Emma L Bishop, Stephanie R Harrison, Amelia Swift, Sheldon C Cooper, Sarah K Dimeloe, Karim Raza, and Martin Hewison

Vitamin D has well-documented effects on calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism but recent studies suggest a much broader role for this secosteroid in human health. Key components of the vitamin D system, notably the vitamin D receptor (VDR) and the vitamin D-activating enzyme (1α-hydroxylase), are present in a wide array of tissues, notably macrophages, dendritic cells and T lymphocytes (T cells) from the immune system. Thus, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25D) can be converted to hormonal 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25D) within immune cells, and then interact with VDR and promote transcriptional and epigenomic responses in the same or neighbouring cells. These intracrine and paracrine effects of 1,25D have been shown to drive antibacterial or antiviral innate responses, as well as to attenuate inflammatory T cell adaptive immunity. Beyond these mechanistic observations, association studies have reported the correlation between low serum 25D levels and the risk and severity of human immune disorders including autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The proposed explanation for this is that decreased availability of 25D compromises immune cell synthesis of 1,25D leading to impaired innate immunity and over-exuberant inflammatory adaptive immunity. The aim of the current review is to explore the mechanistic basis for immunomodulatory effects of 25D and 1,25D in greater detail with specific emphasis on how vitamin D-deficiency (low serum levels of 25D) may lead to dysregulation of macrophage, dendritic cell and T cell function and increase the risk of inflammatory autoimmune disease.

Open access

Vitamin D and PTH: data from a cross-sectional study in an equatorial population

Natércia Neves Marques de Queiroz, Franciane Trindade Cunha de Melo, Fabrício de Souza Resende, Luísa Corrêa Janaú, Norberto Jorge Kzan de Souza Neto, Manuela Nascimento de Lemos, Ana Carolina Lobato Virgolino, Maria Clara Neres Iunes de Oliveira, Angélica Leite de Alcântara, Lorena Vilhena de Moraes, Tiago Franco David, Wanderson Maia da Silva, Scarlatt Souza Reis, Márcia Costa dos Santos, Ana Carolina Contente Braga de Souza, Pedro Paulo Freire Piani, Neyla Arroyo Lara Mourão, Karem Mileo Felício, João Felício Abrahão Neto, and João Soares Felício


Investigate the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in an equatorial population through a large-sample study.


Cross-sectional study with 30,224 healthy individuals from the North Region, in Brazil (Amazônia – state of Pará), who had 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25(OH)D) and intact parathyroid hormone (PTH) serum levels measured by immunoassay method. Those with history of acute or chronic diseases were excluded. Abnormal levels of calcium, creatinine, glycemia and albumin were also exclusion criteria.


25(OH)D levels were 29.1 ± 8.2 ng/mL and values <12.7 ng/mL were equal to < −2 s.d. below average. Hypovitaminosis D was present in 10% of subjects according to the Institute of Medicine (values <20 ng/mL) and in 59%, in consonance with Endocrine Society (values 20–30 ng/mL as insufficiency and <20 ng/mL as deficiency) criteria. Individuals were divided according to four age brackets: children, adolescents, adults and elderly, and their 25(OH)D levels were: 33 ± 9; 28.5 ± 7.4; 28.3 ± 7.7; 29.3 ± 8.5 ng/mL, respectively. All groups differed in 25(OH)D, except adolescents vs adults. Regression model showed BMI, sex, living zone (urban or rural) and age as independent variables to 25(OH)D levels. Comparing subjects with vitamin D deficiency (<20 ng/mL) to those with vitamin D insufficiency (20–30 ng/mL), a difference between PTH levels in these two groups was observed (95.9 ± 24.7 pg/mL vs 44.2 ± 64.5 pg/mL; P < 0.01). Additionally, the most accurate predictive vitamin D level for subclinical hyperparathyroidism in ROC curve was 26 ng/mL.


Our equatorial population showed low prevalence of vitamin D hypovitaminosis ranging with age bracket. The insufficient category by Endocrine Society was corroborated by our PTH data.