Fracture prevention with vitamin D supplementation: considering the inconsistent results

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007 Mar 9:8:26. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-8-26.


Background: A meta-analysis found that high dose vitamin D, different from low dose, decreased fracture risk by 23% for any nonvertebral fracture and by 26% for hip fracture. Unfortunately, however, this effect was not confirmed by recent trials. The aim of this paper is to explore if this inconsistency can be attributed to publication bias or heterogeneity of the trials.

Methods: The meta-analysis was extended with recent randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that were identified by a systematic review. Risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated from raw data. A funnel plot was used to explore the possibility of publication bias. Forest plots were used to investigate if vitamin D dose, concurrent use of calcium and target population were sources of heterogeneity. Linear regression analysis of log RR on adherence rate and achieved vitamin D level was used to study whether these variables were associated with fracture risk.

Results: A total of eleven trials was included: seven RCTs from the meta-analysis and four recently published. For any nonvertebral fracture, the funnel plot was asymmetrical because two small RCTs showed a large positive effect. This was not found for hip fracture. As reported in the meta-analysis, low dose vitamin D (<400 IU daily) was not effective. In contrast to the meta-analysis, however, the effect of high dose vitamin D (> or =700 IU daily) seemed to be dependent on target population. For any nonvertebral fracture, the pooled RR was 0.80 (95% CI, 0.70-0.90) in institutionalised persons, and 0.88 (95% CI, 0.75-1.04) in the general population; for hip fracture, pooled RR 0.72 (95% CI, 0.59 to 0.88) and 1.04 (95% CI, 0.72-1.50), respectively. Other sources of heterogeneity were not clearly found. In the meta-analysis, pooled RRs were mainly based on small trials that showed a large effect or trials in institutionalised persons.

Conclusion: It is likely that the inconsistency between the meta-analysis and the recent trials is, at least partially, due to publication bias and differences in target population. High dose vitamin D may be effective in institutionalised persons but probably is not effective in the general population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fractures, Bone / epidemiology*
  • Fractures, Bone / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Publication Bias*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage*


  • Vitamin D