Although only few postmenopausal women exhibit biochemical signs of hypovitaminosis D, vitamin D insufficiency has been shown to have adverse effects on bone metabolism and could be an important risk factor for osteoporosis and fracture. We determined serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], intact parathyroid hormone (iPTH), bone turnover markers, dietary calcium intake, and bone mineral density (BMD; measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry) in 161 consecutive ambulatory women, healthy except for osteoporosis, referred to a bone metabolic unit. The prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency [25(OH)D < or = 15 ng/ml] was 39.1%. 25(OH)D was lower in the osteoporotic subjects (15.7 +/- 5.3 ng/ml vs. 21.8 +/- 9.7 ng/ml; p < 0.001). After controlling for all other variables, lumbar spine (LS) BMD was found to be significantly associated with 25(OH)D, body mass index (BMI), and years after menopause (YSM) (R2 = 0.253; p < 0.001). For femoral neck (FN), significant independent predictors of BMD were YSM, BMI, iPTH, and 25(OH)D (R2 = 0.368; p < 0.001). The probability of meeting osteoporosis densitometric criteria was higher in the vitamin D insufficiency group (odds ratio [OR], 4.17, 1.83-9.48) after adjusting by YSM, BMI, iPTH, and dietary calcium intake. Our study shows that vitamin D insufficiency in an otherwise healthy postmenopausal population is a common risk factor for osteoporosis associated with increased bone remodeling and low bone mass.