Vitamin D history part III: the "modern times"-new questions for orthopaedic practice: deficiency, cell therapy, osteomalacia, fractures, supplementation, infections

Int Orthop. 2019 Jul;43(7):1755-1771. doi: 10.1007/s00264-019-04334-w. Epub 2019 Apr 29.


Purpose: The nutritional basis for rickets was described between 1880 and 1915, at the same period of discovery of other "vital substances" or vitamins. In contrast, rickets could also be prevented or cured by sunshine. But as the capacity to produce vitamin D depends on exposure to ultraviolet B rays (UVB) from sunlight or artificial sources, vitamin D became one of the most frequently used "drugs" in the twentieth century to compensate for insufficient exposure to UVB of humans. Furthermore, as the understanding of vitamin D metabolism grew during the twentieth century, other concerns than rickets occurred for the orthopaedic surgeon: In recent history, deficiency is explored as being an associated factor of different bone pathologies as fracture or prosthetic infection. The aim of this review is to analyze these new data on vitamin D.

Materials and methods: During the twentieth century, there were many concerns for the orthopaedic surgeon: sources and synthesis of vitamin D, regulation of the calcium deposition process for both children and adults, when vitamin D deficiency is observed, and what the best method of vitamin D supplementation is. As target genes regulated by vitamin D are not limited to those involved in mineral homeostasis, orthopedists recently discovered that vitamin D might prevent periprosthetic infection.

Results: The primary source (80%) of vitamin D is dermal synthesis related to the sun. Dietary sources (20%) of vitamin D are fat fishe, beef, liver, and eggs. Vitamin D is produced industrially to be used in fortified foods and supplements. Maintenance of skeletal calcium balance is mediated through vitamin D receptors. Progenitor cells, chondrocytes, osteoblasts, and osteoclasts contain these receptors which explains the role of vitamin D in cell therapy, in the prevention of rickets and osteomalacia. Despite fortified foods, the prevalence of deficiency remains endemic in north latitudes. However, the definition of vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency remains controversial. Vitamin D has been evaluated in patients undergoing fractures and elective orthopaedic procedures Although supplementation may not be able to prevent or cure all the orthopaedic pathologies, oral supplementation is able to improve the vitamin D levels of deficient patients. These vitamin D level improvements might be associated with better functional and clinical outcomes after some surgical procedures and improvement of immunity to decrease the risk of infection in arthroplasties.

Conclusion: Vitamin D deficiency is frequent and concerns millions of people in the world. It is therefore normal to find hypovitaminosis in various orthopaedic populations including trauma and arthroplasties. However, we do not know exactly if this phenomenon only reflects the general prevalence of vitamin D deficiency or has an influence on the outcome of some pathologies on specific populations at risk. After the success of treatment of rickets, it is disappointing that we are still wondering in the twenty-first century whether supplementation of a substance synthetized millions of years ago by plankton and necessary for growth of all the animals may improve (or not) clinical and functional outcomes of a simple fracture in humans.

Keywords: Arthroplasty infection and vitamin D; Cell therapy and vitamin D; Fracture healing and vitamin D; Osteomalacia; Osteoporosis; Supplementation; Vitamin D and orthopaedic surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / etiology
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / metabolism*
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / therapy
  • Bone and Bones / drug effects
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / physiopathology
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Fractures, Bone / metabolism*
  • Fractures, Bone / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Musculoskeletal System / metabolism
  • Prosthesis-Related Infections / etiology
  • Prosthesis-Related Infections / prevention & control*
  • Sunlight
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin D / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / therapy


  • Vitamin D