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%, CI for the difference, 0.05% to 1.31%, P = 0.032) and a significant overall benefit (0.85% compared with 0.15%, CI 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.