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Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Wintertime and Overall Bone Loss in Healthy Postmenopausal Women

Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD; Gerard E. Dallal, PhD; Elizabeth A. Krall, PhD; Susan Harris, MS; Lori J. Sokoll, MCC; and Gladys Falconer, MS
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Grant Support: By the U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (contract no. 53-3K06-5-10) and the Procter and Gamble Company.

Requests for Reprints: Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, Calcium and Bone Metabolism Laboratory, U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Dawson-Hughes, Dallal, and Krall and Ms. Harris, Ms. Sokoll, and Ms. Falconer: U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111.


Ann Intern Med. 1991;115(7):505-512. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-115-7-505
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Objectives: To determine whether relative vitamin D deficiency during the winter months contributes to age-related bone loss and whether rates of change in hard- and soft-tissue mass vary during the year.

Design: Double-blind, placebo-controlled, 1-year trial in 249 women in which equal numbers of women were randomized to either placebo or 400 IU of vitamin D daily. All women received 377 mg/d of supplemental calcium largely as calcium citrate malate.

Patients: Healthy, ambulatory postmenopausal women with usual intakes of vitamin D of 100 IU/d.

Measurements: Duplicate spine and whole-body scans were done by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry at 6-month intervals that were timed to periods when 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were highest and lowest. Period 1 was June-July to December-January and period 2 was December-January to the next June-July. Serum parathyroid hormone and plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were measured during periods 1 and 2.

Main Results: In the placebo group, spinal bone mineral density increased in period 1, decreased in period 2, and sustained no net change. Women treated with vitamin D had a similar spinal increase in period 1 (1.46% compared with 1.40% in placebo), less loss in period 2 (— 0.54% compared with — 1.22%, Cl for the difference, 0.05% to 1.31%, P = 0.032) and a significant overall benefit (0.85% compared with 0.15%, Cl for the difference, 0.03% to 1.37%, P = 0.04). In period 2, 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were lower and parathyroid hormone levels were higher in the placebo than in the vitamin D group. Whole-body lean and fat tissue and bone mineral density varied during the year but did not change overall.

Conclusions: At latitude 42 degrees, healthy postmenopausal women with vitamin D intakes of 100 IU daily can significantly reduce late wintertime bone loss and improve net bone density of the spine over one year by increasing their intake of vitamin D to 500 IU daily. A long-term benefit of preventing vitamin D insufficiency in the winter seems likely although it remains to be shown. Observed changes in bone as well as in fat and lean tissue appear to be related to season.

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