To define the potential role of subclinical vitamin D deficiency in postmenopausal bone loss, we analyzed the levels of circulating 25- hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) in 539 midwestern caucasian women screened for osteoporosis. Low 25OHD (less than 38 nmol/L) was found in 49 subjects (aged 52-77 yr). Women with low 25OHD had a reduced vertebral bone density (VBD), assessed by quantitative computed tomography, compared to age-matched controls (P less than 0.001). They also had significantly lower levels of serum calcium and phosphate, lower urinary calcium, higher serum alkaline phosphatase, and, in most cases, increased immunoreactive PTH (iPTH) concentrations, suggesting secondary hyperparathyroidism.
Furthermore, only in the low 25OHD group did VBD correlate directly with 25OHD (r = 0.41; P less than 0.01), and inversely with iPTH (r = -0.47; P less than 0.01). Multivariate analyses revealed that iPTH was the major determinant of the observed decrease in VBD. Seasonal variations of serum 25OHD were noted only in the control population; in this group the 25OHD levels also correlated with sunlight exposure (r = 0.48; P less than 0.01), as assessed by an outdoor score. Thus, vitamin D deficiency develops when both the endogenous and exogenous sources are insufficient and contributes to a reduced bone mass in elderly women.