Calcium and vitamin D in human health: Hype or real?

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2018 Jun:180:4-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2017.12.009. Epub 2017 Dec 16.


The incidence and prevalence of vitamin D deficiency are increasing worldwide. It is estimated that over 50% of the world's population have low vitamin D (i.e., hypovitaminosis D; serum levels below 30 ng/mL). In vitamin D inadequacy, human physiological systems work inefficiently. In humans, 80% of the vitamin D is synthesized in the presence of ultraviolet rays from sunlight; for the rest, we rely on diet and nowadays, supplements. The latter becomes important when one is exposed to less than optimal amounts of sunlight, inability to generate vitamin D in the skin efficiently, and/or having conditions that lead to decreased intestinal absorption or increased catabolism of vitamin D. The normal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] level is around 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L) and the optimal range is between 30 and 60 ng/mL (75-150 nmol/L). In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggested that 600IU of vitamin D is adequate for people below age 71 who are not exposed to sunshine. Although this might be relevant to the ambulatory healthy white Caucasians to achieve serum 25(OH)D level of 20 ng/mL, but it is insufficient for other ethnic groups. Moreover, the IOM recommendations are not suitable for those who live outside North America. Vitamin D requirements are higher during adolescence, pregnancy and lactation, and in many other disease conditions. Most clinicians consider 30 ng/mL as the minimum serum level of 25(OH)D necessary to maintain good health. In the absence of sunlight exposure and with daily oral intake of 600IU vitamin D, very few people would reach serum 25(OH)D level above 30 ng/mL. While an additional daily intake of 1000IU of vitamin D are required for people with lighter-skin color, those with darker complexion and the elderly, require a minimum of 2000IU/day to maintain serum 25(OH)D levels over 30 ng/mL; 5000 IU/day supplement is considered as the safe daily upper limit of supplementation. Vulnerable groups such as the disabled and/or house-bound, obese, with gastrointestinal abnormalities and/or malabsorption syndromes, institutionalized people (e.g., nursing homes, prisons, etc.), and pregnant and lactating women need approximately 4000IU per day for optimal physiological activity. Vitamin D is essential for gastrointestinal calcium absorption, mineralization of osteoid tissue and maintenance of serum ionized calcium level. It is also important for other physiological functions, such as muscle strength, neuromuscular coordination, hormone release, subduing autoimmunity, and curtailing the development of certain cancers.

Keywords: 1,25(OH)2D; 25(OH)D; BMD; Fractures; Osteomalacia; Osteoporosis; Rickets; Supplements.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / prevention & control*
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage*


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D