© 2010 Canadian Medical Association or its licensors
diet or supplements, as essential for the prevention of osteo-
porosis. Recent large clinical trials and meta-analyses have
expanded our knowledge of the role of vitamin D in fractures,
falls and other health outcomes, as well as its effect on disor-
ders such as diabetes mellitus, autoimmune and infectious
diseases, malignancies and cardiovascular disease.
Current Canadian recommendations for “adequate intake”
and “tolerable upper level” of vitamin D, which are more than
10 years old, were derived mainly from early nutritional sci-
ence estimates of the minimal intake necessary to prevent
florid deficiency states (rickets or osteomalacia). However,
these levels have never been supported by adequately con-
ducted dose-finding studies.2
This review is an update to the 2002 recommendations on
vitamin D and is specific for adults, excluding times of preg-
nancy and lactation.
he 2002 guidelines for the management of osteopor -
osis published by Osteoporosis Canada1identified
adequate vitamin D status, in addition to calcium from
We systematically searched the MEDLINE database, for the
period 1996 to June 30, 2008, and the Cochrane Library using
the terms “vitamin D,” “vitamin D deficiency,” “25-hydroxy -
vitamin D,” “meta-analysis” and “systematic review.” We
identified 168 potentially relevant papers. Of these, 16 rel -
evant systematic reviews remained after removal of dupli-
cates and screening of abstracts by two reviewers (including
A.C.). We included systematic reviews of randomized con-
trolled trials and observational studies that assessed fractures,
falls, death or extraskeletal outcomes. We used the Assess-
ment of Multiple Systematic Reviews instrument3to evaluate
the methodologic quality of systematic reviews published
between the cutoff date for literature reviewed in the 2002
clinical practice guidelines1until June 30, 2008 (Appendices
1 and 2, available at www.cmaj.ca /cgi/content
/full/cmaj.080663/DC1). A multidisciplinary expert panel
consisting of the authors of this paper reviewed the abstracted
articles and quality measures. Following this review, we for-
mulated summary statements based upon the highest level of
evidence and developed graded recommendations. All
authors contributed to this process, reaching consensus
through a series of in-person meetings, teleconferences and
electronic communications. Levels of evidence and grading
of recommendations followed the same system as used in
2002 (Table 1).1The Guidelines Committee and the Execu-
tive Committee of Osteoporosis Canada’s Scientific Advisory
Council approved the recommendations.
Vitamin D in adult health and disease: a review and
guideline statement from Osteoporosis Canada
David A. Hanley MD, Ann Cranney MB BCh, Glenville Jones PhD, Susan J. Whiting PhD,
William D. Leslie MD, David E.C. Cole MD PhD, Stephanie A. Atkinson PhD,
Robert G. Josse MB ChB, Sidney Feldman MD, Gregory A. Kline MD, Cheryl Rosen MD;
for the Guidelines Committee of the Scientific Advisory Council of Osteoporosis Canada
See also the summary article by Hanley and colleagues
From the Departments of Medicine (Hanley, Kline), Oncology (Hanley) and
Community Health Sciences (Hanley), University of Calgary, Calgary, Alta.;
the Department of Medicine (Cranney), University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.;
the Department of Biochemistry (Jones), Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.;
the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition (Whiting), University of
Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Sask.; the Departments of Radiology, Nuclear
Medicine and Medicine (Leslie), University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Man.;
the Departments of Pathology (Cole), Laboratory Medicine (Cole), Medicine
(Josse, Rosen), and Family and Community Medicine (Feldman), University
of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.; and the Department of Pediatrics (Atkinson),
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont. Members of the Guidelines Commit-
tee of the Scientific Advisory Council of Osteoporosis Canada are listed in
the Acknowledgements section of this article.
CMAJ 2010. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.080663
• Adequate vitamin D is an essential factor in the prevention
of osteoporosis and may reduce the risk of other medical
disorders unrelated to bone and mineral metabolism.
To most consistently improve clinical outcomes such as
fracture risk, an optimal serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin
D is probably above 75 nmol/L; for most Canadians,
supplementation is needed to achieve this level.
The recommended vitamin D intake is 10–25 μg (400–1000 IU)
daily for low-risk adults under 50 years of age and 20–50 μg
(800–2000 IU) for high-risk and older adults, with potential
for consideration of higher doses.
Doses up to 50 μg (2000 IU) are safe and do not require
monitoring, but if higher doses are sometimes needed,
monitoring is appropriate.
Early release, published at www.cmaj.ca on July 26, 2010. Subject to revision.
Assessment of vitamin D
Measurement and assay
After synthesis in the skin or dietary ingestion, vitamin D is
removed from the bloodstream into various tissues, including
the liver, adipose tissue and muscle. Its biologic half-life is
about 60 days,4and it is eventually converted to 25-hydroxy -
vitamin D in the hepatocytes.4,5Vitamin D3(cholecalciferol) is
the molecule synthesized in the skin in response to ultraviolet
B radiation, whereas vitamin D2(ergocalciferol) is derived
from irradiation of certain fungi. Both vitamin D2and vitamin
D3create 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form, although
there is some evidence that vitamin D2may not be used in the
body as efficiently as vitamin D3.6In Canada, most vitamin D
supplements consist of vitamin D3, but high-dose prepara-
tions, available by prescription, are vitamin D2. In this paper
we use the term “vitamin D” to refer to both forms, unless a
distinction is warranted.
The serum concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D3is the
best indicator of the nutritional and functional status of vita-
min D.2A nonfasting sample taken at any time of day is suit-
able for measurement of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (level 2 evi-
dence). Circulating calcitriol (1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3or
1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol) is the vitamin D hormone
regulating intestinal calcium and phosphate absorption, but it
is not an appropriate indicator of clinical vitamin D status,5
the exception being in patients with abnormalities of cal-
citriol synthesis (e.g., sarcoidosis) or rare disorders of phos-
phate or vitamin D metabolism (level 4 evidence, grade D
Many techniques are widely available for measuring 25-
hydroxyvitamin D.7–9These assays all perform reasonably
well in identifying clinically important low levels (Table 2),
but methods other than high-performance liquid chromatog -
raphy may misclassify about 20% of low values.7–9However,
the data used to define current clinical decision values for 25-
hydroxyvitamin D concentrations were obtained by means of
immunoassays. Variability in measurements of serum 25-
hydroxyvitamin D make it imperative that clinical labora -
tories participate in external laboratory proficiency testing
programs,7–9such as the Vitamin D External Quality Assess-
ment Scheme.10External proficiency testing should be a
mandatory component of accreditation for laboratories that
measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D (level 2 evidence).
Monitoring of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D
There has been a marked increase in the clinical use of 25-
hydroxyvitamin D assays.11However, serum 25-hydroxyvita-
min D should be measured only if deficiency is suspected or
would affect the person’s response to therapy (e.g., in cases of
impaired intestinal absorption, such as celiac disease, or
osteoporosis requiring pharmacologic therapy). In treating
deficiency, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D will indicate the
effectiveness of vitamin D therapy. The half-life of 25-
hydroxyvitamin D in the body is 15–20 days.4With standard-
dose supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D plateaus
after three to four months.12Therefore, serum 25-hydroxyvita-
min D should be checked no sooner than three months after
standard-dose treatment is initiated (level 2 evidence, grade
B recommendation). After high-dose oral or parenteral vita-
min D replacement is administered (e.g., 500 000 IU), the
peak 25-hydroxyvitamin D level may be achieved in one
month.13Patients taking daily doses above Health Canada’s
“tolerable upper intake level” (currently set at 50 µg [2000
IU]) should undergo monitoring of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin
D (level 4 evidence, grade D recommendation). For healthy
Canadians, the dose recommendations for routine supplemen-
tation in this paper should result in adequate blood levels.
Monitoring of routine supplement use and routine testing of
Table 1: Levels of evidence and grading system*
Level or grade Criteria
Systematic overview or meta-analysis of
randomized controlled trials
Randomized controlled trial with
Randomized controlled trial that does
not meet level 1 criteria
Nonrandomized clinical trial or cohort
Before–after study, cohort study with
noncontemporaneous controls, case–
Case series with controls
Case series without controls
Supported by level 1 or 1+ evidence
Supported by level 2 or 2+ evidence
Supported by level 3 evidence plus
Any lower level of evidence supported
*Identified articles were reviewed, and the summary statements developed
from these articles were assigned a level of evidence (from 1 = highest to 4 =
lowest). Recommendations were assigned a grade, according to a system
that incorporated both level of evidence and expert consensus (from A =
highest to D = lowest).
Table 2: Classification of vitamin D status by serum level of
25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH-D)
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D insufficiency‡
Desirable vitamin D status
Potential adverse effects
*Assumes that serum 25-OH-D is measured by a clinical laboratory
participating in an external quality assurance program.
†2.5 nmol/L = 1 ng/mL.
‡”Insufficiency” is a milder form of deficiency and should preferably be
termed “suboptimal vitamin D status.”
otherwise healthy individuals as a screening procedure are not
indicated (grade D recommendation).
Vitamin D status
Vitamin D deficiency should be regarded as a continuum,
encompassing past definitions of “deficiency” and “insuffi-
ciency” (Table 2). The term “deficiency” was previously used
to describe the advanced clinical effects of chronically low
vitamin D: malabsorption of calcium and phosphate with
resultant hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia and secondary
hyperparathyroidism, as well as proximal myopathy and
impaired growth-plate development (rickets) and bone min -
eralization (osteomalacia)5(level 3 evidence). Vitamin D
“insufficiency” described a milder form of deficiency in
which reduced absorption of calcium and resultant mild sec-
ondary hyperparathyroidism might increase bone loss. Vita-
min D insufficiency commonly occurs in patients with osteo-
porosis and could contribute to their clinical presentation of
low bone density, fractures and falls5(level 2 evidence; see
“Traditional roles,” later in this article).
In rickets and osteomalacia, serum levels of 25-hydroxy -
vitamin D are usually below 20–25 nmol/L, whereas levels of
vitamin D in “insufficiency” are below the desirable range but
above 20–25 nmol/L. The lower limit of the desirable (opti-
mal) range is debatable, but available evidence supports set-
ting this at 75–80 nmol/L12–17(level 3 evidence). Setting an
optimal level of 75 nmol/L makes certain the person has
reached the point at which, with increasing vitamin D intake,
serum parathyroid hormone, intestinal calcium absorption15
and muscle function in the lower extremities14have reached a
plateau and at which, according to one meta-analysis,16frac-
ture prevention is consistently seen.
Factors associated with vitamin D deficiency
Many factors are associated with vitamin D deficiency, some
causative (e.g., marked avoidance of ultraviolet radiation,
malabsorption), and others being conditions in which vitamin
D deficiency or insufficiency is reported frequently (e.g.,
chronic renal failure)17,18(mostly level 4 evidence).
Vitamin D deficiency should be considered in patients
with osteoporosis, particularly if there is no response to ther-
apy.19Elderly patients living in institutions are at high risk for
vitamin D deficiency because of lack of exposure to sun-
light.20Absolute avoidance of sunlight increases the risk of
vitamin D deficiency, and vitamin D supplementation is
needed in this situation (level 3 evidence, grade C recommen-
dation). Sunscreens lower the rate of vitamin D synthesis21but
have not been associated with vitamin D deficiency and
should not be avoided out of fear of such a deficiency.22,23
1. Measurement of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the serum (with
no restrictions on the timing of collection) is the best indi-
cator of vitamin D sufficiency24 (level 2 evidence).
2. In the absence of external laboratory proficiency testing,
serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D values from different clinical
laboratories cannot be assumed to be comparable7,9,25(level
3. Monitoring of routine vitamin D supplementation by
meas urement of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is unneces-
sary (level 4 evidence). Monitoring of high-risk patients
and those with osteoporosis should not be performed
before three months of standard supplementation (20–50
µg [800–2000 IU daily])12(level 2 evidence). Patients tak-
ing daily doses above Health Canada’s “tolerable upper
intake level” (currently set at 50 µg [2000 IU]) should
undergo monitoring of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (level
Sources of vitamin D
Exposure to the sun
Ultraviolet B radiation (wavelength 290–315 nm) promotes
synthesis of vitamin D from 7-dehydrocholesterol in the
skin.24The amount of exposure needed to achieve adequate
vitamin D status depends on latitude, altitude, time of year
and day, weather, other aspects of the environment, age, skin
pigmentation type, clothing, activity and the amount of skin
irradiated.21To obtain 25 µg (1000 IU) of vitamin D3 from
moderate exposure to ultraviolet B radiation, a young white
person needs exposure at one-quarter of the minimal ery -
themal dose (4 minutes) to 25% of the body surface (arms
and most of the legs), whereas an older person or a person
with darker skin may need as long as 18 minutes26,27(level 2
evidence). Unfortunately, many detrimental effects of ultra -
violet B radiation are cumulative, and one-quarter of the mini-
mal erythemal dose per day would result in a significant
amount of ultraviolet B radiation exposure over a summer.
For that reason, dermatologists recommend that the safest
course is to avoid exposure to the sun and to take vitamin D
The effects of latitude on vitamin D synthesis may be
related to fractures: for each 10° change in latitude away from
the equator, the probability of hip fracture increases by
0.6%.28In wintertime, above 35° North latitude, sunlight does
not contain adequate ultraviolet B radiation for production of
vitamin D3.29Therefore, Canadians are at risk for seasonal
vita min D insufficiency or deficiency.30–32Although 25-
hydroxy vitamin D levels in summer may reach or exceed 75
nmol/L, in winter they can fall by half33(level 3 evidence).
The influence of diet on vitamin D status is minimal
(accounting for 3.7–5.9 µg or 148–236 IU daily), and most
circulating vitamin D is derived from exposure to sunlight.34
The major dietary sources of vitamin D come from
Canada‘s mandatory fortification of margarine, milk (both
fluid and powdered forms) and plant-based beverages and
from optional fortification of fruit juices and yogurts35(level
The 2007 Canada Food Guide recommendation that all adults
over the age of 50 years take a daily vitamin D supplement of
10 µg (400 IU)36should ensure that older Canadians meet the
1997 dietary recommendations from the Institute of Medi-
cine.2However, this level of intake does not meet the previ-
ous recommendation of Osteoporosis Canada of 20 µg (800
IU), which was based on data suggesting that this is the mini-
mum dose consistently associated with prevention of frac-
tures1,17(level 1+ evidence).
When supplements are used to treat vitamin D insuffi-
ciency, the amount should be great enough to increase 25-
hydroxyvitamin D to desirable levels. Daily doses over 50 µg
(2000 IU) can safely be administered under medical supervi-
sion.2Assuming that the patient can absorb an orally adminis-
tered dose, severe deficiency (rickets or osteomalacia)
requires doses as high as 1250 µg (50 000 IU) daily for two to
four weeks, then weekly or biweekly, with monitoring of
serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at one month and three months.
Less severe deficiency can be managed with lower doses.5A
clinically useful estimate is 1 nmol/L for each microgram of
vitamin D;12,37,38for example, vitamin D31 µg (40 IU) daily
raises serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D by 0.7–2.0 nmol/L. If diet
and a background of moderate sun exposure during summer
is assumed to achieve a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D
level of 50 nmol/L, then a further 25 µg (1000 IU) per day of
dietary vitamin D3may be needed to exceed 75 nmol/L. Some
individuals, particularly those deprived of sunlight and those
who are elderly, may need greater intake (level 2 evidence).
Safety and toxicity of vitamin D supplementation
Because of the long half-life of vitamin D accumulation in the
tissues, excessive intake of vitamin D has the potential to
cause chronic toxic effects, which present as hypercalcemia
and renal damage. Most countries have set the “tolerable upper
intake level” for vitamin D (the highest daily intake presenting
no risk of adverse health effects in almost all individuals in the
general population) at 50 µg (2000 IU) for adults.2However,
this intake level was set without adequate studies of dose–
response relationships or toxicity. Small studies have shown
that hypercalcemia or hypercalciuria cannot be elicited in
healthy adults who consume up to 250 µg (10 000 IU) daily
over long periods.12,39Recent reviews have recommended that
the tolerable upper intake level be raised to 250 µg (10 000 IU)
daily,4,39but more studies are needed.39If the desirable serum
level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D is at least 75 nmol/L, daily
intakes greater than 20–50 µg (800–1000 IU) and as high as
125 µg (5000 IU) may be required in some cases40(level 2 and
There is no convincing evidence of adverse effects of daily
intakes up to 125 µg (5000 IU). Although the Women’s
Health Initiative, which used 10 µg (400 IU) daily, found an
increased incidence of nephrolithiasis, there was no evidence
of elevated 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the small number of par-
ticipants tested, and calciuria was not assessed.41
Diseases like sarcoidosis sometimes feature hypercalcemia
and/or hypercalciuria, and calcium levels should be moni-
tored in affected patients, particularly in summer.42The vita-
min D intake of patients with primary hyperparathyroidism
should not be restricted. Vitamin D insufficiency is common
in this condition, and repletion may have beneficial effects43,44
(level 3 evidence).
There is no evidence that increasing the recommended
vita min D intake for the general population to 20–50 µg
(800–2000 IU) would cause any medical problems. At this
level of vitamin D intake, there is no need to monitor calcium
in the serum or urine or to monitor renal function2,40(level 2
evidence, grade B recommendation).
1. In Canada, some vitamin D is obtained with safe exposure
to the sun during the summer months,26,27,45(level 1 evi-
dence), but exposure to sunlight and dietary intake are
insufficient to maintain average serum 25-hydroxyvitamin
D concentration above 75 nmol/L throughout the year12,31,32
(level 2 evidence).
2. A daily intake of 25 µg vitamin D3(1000 IU) — a safe,
commonly available dose — will raise the average serum
level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D by 15–25 nmol/L12,37(level 2
3. The upper level for safe vitamin D3intake has not been
well defined but is probably as high as 250 µg (10 000 IU)
daily12,39(level 2 evidence). In clinical practice, supplemen-
tation with this dose of vitamin D is rarely required (level
Traditional roles of vitamin D
Effect on bone mineral density
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low bone mineral
density, a key risk factor for osteoporotic fracture.1Observa-
tional studies have shown a positive association between
serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (range 40–90 nmol/L) and
higher bone density.46–48
In older women (> 65 years), daily vitamin D317.5 or 20
µg (700 or 800 IU) resulted in small but significant increases
in bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and femoral neck
relative to placebo.49,50Similarly, the Women’s Health Initia-
tive found, in a subgroup of 2431 women taking vitamin D
and calcium supplements, a 1.06% increase in total hip dens -
ity (p < 0.001)41(level 1 evidence).
Effect on fractures
Low 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations have been associ-
ated with fracture. Higher serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D lev-
els were observed in randomized trials that reported a signif-
icant reduction in fractures.49,51–53However, the treatment
effect varied across these trials,49,51,54–58possibly because of
compliance issues (< 80%) and incomplete assessment of
vitamin D status. In their meta-analysis, Bischoff-Ferrari
and colleagues16combined data from five trials (n = 9829)
that used 17.5 or 20 µg (700 or 800 IU) of vitamin D3and
reported a 23% reduction in nonvertebral fractures. The
reduction in risk of fracture was most strongly associated
with those doses, provided serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D lev-
els exceeded 75 nmol/L.16
The importance of adequate calcium intake and the pri-
mary role of vitamin D in the absorption of dietary calcium
were highlighted by a meta-analysis59showing that the com-
bined relative risk (RR) of fracture from 6 trials (n = 45 509)
of vitamin D3(10–20 µg [400–800 IU]) combined with cal-
cium was 0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.71–0.94).
Similarly, a recent cumulative meta-analysis found that cal-
cium intake above 1200 mg daily in combination with 20 µg
(800 IU) vitamin D provided reduction in fracture risk and
prevention of bone loss superior to effects seen with lower
calcium intake and 10 µg (400 IU) vitamin D,60especially for
elderly patients living in institutions, where adherence is
assured through supervision of medications.58
Vitamin D3at daily doses of at least 20 µg (800 IU) in
combination with calcium (1000 mg) reduces the risk of hip
and nonvertebral fractures, especially for elderly patients liv-
ing in institutions.16,60Clinical trial evidence for the efficacy of
vitamin D3and calcium in reducing fracture risk in commun -
ity-dwelling individuals is less strong,57but poor compliance
was a major factor in the negative studies.41,52Although 20 µg
(800 IU) is the lowest dose consistently associated with a
bone benefit, it is likely that, for a sizeable minority of indi-
viduals, this dose would not be effective. Because higher
doses are within the current definition of tolerable upper
level, it seems reasonable to recommend 20–50 µg (800–2000
IU) for patients at risk for osteoporosis (level 2–4 evidence,
grade B–D recommendation).
Effect on falls
Vitamin D may reduce falls through improvements in muscle
strength and lower-extremity function.14,61A meta-analysis of
five trials that adequately defined and ascertained falls
showed that vitamin D significantly reduced the risk (by
22%), but this was not the case when the analysis was
restricted to the three randomized controlled trials (odds ratio
0.83, 95% CI 0.65–1.06).62The inconsistent effect of vitamin
D in trials may be related to differences in population, dose
and method of capturing data on falls.55,61–67There is reason-
able evidence that vitamin D3at a daily dose of 20 µg (800
IU) reduces the risk of falls, particularly from trials that ad -
equately ascertained falls62(level 2 evidence).
1. Supplementation with vitamin D3and calcium increases
bone density in postmenopausal women and in men over
age 50 years41,46–50,68,69(level 1 evidence).
2. Vitamin D3at daily doses of 20 µg (800 IU), in combina-
tion with calcium (1000 mg), reduces the risk of hip and
nonvertebral fractures in elderly people living in institu-
tions16(level 1 evidence). The evidence for community-
dwelling individuals is less strong16,70(level 2 evidence).
3. There is evidence that supplementation with 20 µg (800
IU) vitamin D3daily reduces the risk of falls, particularly
from trials with adequate ascertainment of falls62(level 2
Nontraditional roles of vitamin D
Since the publication of the previous Osteoporosis Canada
guidelines in 2002, a wide variety of previously unsuspected
biological roles for vitamin D have been explored. Vitamin D
(calcitriol) receptors and the enzymes involved in calcitriol
synthesis (1α-hydroxylase, cytochrome P450 27B1 isozyme)
and catabolism (24-hydroxylase, cytochrome P450 24
isozyme) are expressed in many tissues, including the skin,
colon, prostate, breast, pancreas and heart, as well as the
immune system (monocytes, macrophages and lympho-
cytes).5Calcitriol produced in these tissues is not normally
released into the circulation and is not regulated by serum cal-
cium, phosphate or parathyroid hormone.5Calcitriol may
lower blood pressure by downregulating renin production, it
may stimulate insulin production and secretion by pancreatic
β cells, and it may modulate immune function through actions
on lymphocytes and macrophages.5
Significant antiproliferative and prodifferentiation proper-
ties have been demonstrated in laboratory studies.71A system-
atic review of the PubMed database yielded 63 observational
studies of vitamin D status in relation to cancer risk,72the
majority of which found that lower cancer risk was associated
with sufficient vitamin D status. Systematic reviews for colo -
rectal cancer have also found that vitamin D may reduce the
risk.73,74In a small randomized trial, daily supplementation
with calcium 1400–1500 mg and vitamin D327.5 µg (1100
IU) reduced the risk of all cancers (excluding skin cancer).75
In the Women’s Health Initiative study, there was no bene-
fit of 10 µg (400 IU) with respect to risk of colorectal cancer,
but in a nested case–control substudy, low levels of 25-
hydroxyvitamin D were associated with higher risk of can-
cer.76Low serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D was associ-
ated with colon cancer in the Third National Health and
Nutrition Examination study34(level 3 evidence).
Vitamin D deficiency, which impairs the synthesis and
secretion of insulin in animal models of diabetes mellitus,77
has been linked to the risk of diabetes. Epidemiologic studies
have suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency in early
life and later onset of type 1 diabetes.78One meta-analysis
supported an association between vitamin D deficiency and
type 2 diabetes.79
Although studies of vitamin D in multiple sclerosis have
been small, have lacked controls or have included confound-
ing by other variables, high circulating levels of vitamin D
have been associated with a lower risk of this condition, and
supplementation has been associated with reduced risk.80,81
Vitamin D appears to be required in the immune response
that leads to killing of intracellular Mycobacterium tuberculo-
sis, which perhaps explains why populations with a high
prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency also have susceptibility
to microbial infections.82A recent systematic review found
fair evidence that vitamin D has a role in modifying the
body’s response to infection (especially tuberculosis,
influenza and viral upper respiratory tract illnesses), but fur-
ther research is needed.83
Despite the appearance of interesting potential benefits of
nontraditional actions of vitamin D in observational studies,
no adequately powered or dosed intervention studies have
been performed to test these hypotheses. The US Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality has recently released a sys-
tematic review of the evidence for vitamin D affecting health
outcomes, which found little or weak evidence supporting
the nontraditional actions of vitamin D and could make no
recommendations other than that more research is needed.84
1. Vitamin D insufficiency has been associated with malig-
nancies72(especially colorectal cancer73), diabetes melli-
tus,78multiple sclerosis81and impaired immune response82
(level 3 evidence).
2. The benefits of vitamin D for these nontraditional roles are
associated with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels above 75
nmol/L37,72(level 3 evidence).
Approach to supplementation
There are major deficits in our knowledge of vitamin D, and
more research, including well-conducted randomized controlled
trials, is needed to define optimal intake levels. Nonetheless, the
consensus position of Osteoporosis Canada is that the available
evidence of safety and the potential benefits for adults justify
recommending that optimal vitamin D sta tus represents a serum
25-hydroxyvitamin D level of at least 75 nmol/L. In Canada,
exposure to sunlight and dietary in take are insufficient to main-
tain this level, and use of vitamin D supplementation is therefore
indicated for most adults.30–32
The clinical approach can take into account three “set-
tings,” based on suspicion for vitamin D insufficiency and its
People with low risk for vitamin D insufficiency are adults
below age 50 years without comorbid conditions affecting
vitamin D absorption or action. For these people, supplemen-
tation at 10–25 µg (400–1000 IU) is appropriate, and serum
25-hydroxyvitamin D should not be measured (level 3 evi-
dence, grade D recommendation).
People with moderate risk for vitamin D insufficiency are
adults 50 years of age or older, with or without osteoporosis,
but without comorbid conditions that affect vitamin D absorp-
tion or action. For these people, routine supplementation with
vitamin D is appropriate, and this should be at a dose of 20–
50 µg (800–2000 IU) daily (level 2 evidence, grade B recom-
mendation). Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D should not be mea-
sured routinely in initial assessment of these individuals, but
if pharmacologic therapy for osteoporosis is prescribed, 25-
hydroxyvitamin D should be measured after three to four
months of an adequate supplementation dose (level 3–5 evi-
dence, grade D recommendation).
People at high risk for adverse outcomes from vitamin D
insufficiency include those with recurrent fractures or bone loss
despite osteoporosis treatment and/or comorbid conditions that
affect vitamin D absorption or action. In these cases, serum 25-
hydroxyvitamin D should be measured as part of the initial
assessment, and supplementation with vitamin D should be
based on the measured value. Supplementation dose require-
ments above the current definition of tolerable upper intake
level (50 µg [2000 IU]) may be identified by measuring serum
25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (grade B recommendation).
Vitamin D3is the preferred supplementary form for
humans, with vitamin D2being available for large-dose prepa-
rations. Calcitriol and its analogs are prescription products
with narrow margins of safety. They are not synonymous
with vitamin D and are not advised for prevention or routine
treatment of osteoporosis. For most adults given a supple-
ment, an initial dose of vitamin D3of 20–25 µg (800–1000
IU) daily, is likely to raise serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D by
approximately 15–30 nmol/L.12,37To achieve desirable vita-
min D status (> 75 nmol/L) many individuals will require
doses greater than this minimum dose.
A weekly dose of 250 µg (10 000 IU) vitamin D3may be
more convenient for some patients if available. Some practi-
tioners use vitamin D2at a dose of 1250 µg (50 000 IU)
monthly or more frequently as needed.
Box 1: Recommendations for vitamin D
1.Adequate vitamin D status, in addition to calcium from
diet or supplements, is essential for the prevention of
osteoporosis (level 1 evidence, grade A recommendation).
2.Administration of vitamin D and calcium should not be
used as the sole treatment for osteoporosis (level 1
evidence, grade A recommendation).
3.The optimal level of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D for
musculoskeletal benefits is at least 75 nmol/L (level 2
evidence, grade B recommendation).
4.Laboratories performing 25-hydroxyvitamin D testing
should take part in external proficiency surveys and should
demonstrate that values reported for shared samples
approximate the consensus of values reported by others
(level 4 evidence, grade D recommendation).
5.In healthy adults at low risk for vitamin D deficiency (i.e.,
under age 50, without osteoporosis or conditions affecting
vitamin D absorption or action), routine vitamin D
supplementation (10–25 μg [400–1000 IU] daily) is
recommended. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D should not be
measured (level 5 evidence, grade D recommendation).
6.Adults over 50 years of age are at moderate risk for
vitamin D deficiency. Supplementation with at least 20–25
μg (800–1000 IU) of vitamin D3daily is recommended. To
achieve optimal vitamin D status (> 75 nmol/L), many
individuals may require supplementation at greater than
25 μg (1000 IU) daily. Doses up to 50 μg (2000 IU) are safe
and do not require monitoring (level 3 evidence, grade C
7.For individuals receiving pharmacologic therapy for
osteoporosis, measurement of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D
should follow three to four months of adequate
supplementation and should not be repeated if the
optimal level is achieved (grade D recommendation).
8.Measurement of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is
recommended for individuals with recurrent fractures,
bone loss despite osteoporosis treatment or comorbid
conditions that affect vitamin D absorption or action
(grade D recommendation). Dose requirements above
Health Canada’s current tolerable upper intake level (50
μg [2000 IU]) may be needed, in which case monitoring of
serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels is required (level 4
evidence, grade D recommendation).
9.Exposure to natural sunlight, when used in moderation
(avoiding sunburn) and individualized to the person’s skin
type, can contribute to summertime vitamin D sufficiency
(level 2 evidence, grade B recommendation).
10.Research is needed to better define the minimum required
daily dose and the optimal dose for musculoskeletal and
other health benefits and to better establish the tolerable
upper level for vitamin D supplementation (grade D
*Levels of evidence and grades of recommendation are explained in Table 1.
Our recommendations for the use of vitamin D are pre-
sented in Box 1. Changes from the 2002 guidelines are
related most specifically to dose recommendations and are
presented in Table 3. A summary of this guideline is also
These guideline recommendations are limited by the fact
that most studies in the traditional areas of bone health are
flawed by use of low doses and poor adherence. With
respect to the effects of vitamin D outside the muscu-
loskeletal system, adequately powered randomized clinical
trials of a properly defined effective dose of vitamin D have
never been done. The upper margins of dose safety for vita-
min D have not been determined by trials using adequate
numbers of participants and appropriate durations of dosing,
but they are undoubt edly much higher than the current
Despite the inadequacy of clinical trial evidence, we
suggest that the low cost of vitamin D supplements, the
wide therapeutic window and the favourable risk–benefit
ratio justify our recommendations. A daily supplement of
25 µg (800 IU) should now be regarded as the minimum
dose. Canadians can safely take daily vitamin D supple-
ments up to the current definition of tolerable upper intake
level (50 µg [2000 IU]), but doses above that require med-
ical supervision. Research is needed to better define the
minimum required daily dose, the optimal dose and the tol-
erable upper limit of vitamin D for musculoskeletal and
other health benefits.
This article has been peer reviewed.
Competing interests: The authors constituted the Vitamin D Working
Group of the Guidelines Committee of the Scientific Advisory Council of
Osteoporosis Canada. David A. Hanley has been an investigator in clinical
trials, participated in advisory boards or received speaking honoraria from
the following companies: Amgen, Merck Frosst Canada, Proctor and Gam-
ble Canada (now Warner-Chilcott), Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, NPS Pharma-
ceuticals, Eli Lilly Canada, Pfizer, Wyeth-Ayerst, Roche, Servier, Abbott
Laboratories and Nycomed. Glenville Jones serves on the scientific advi-
sory board of the not-for-profit Vitamin D External Quality Assessment
Scheme. He is also on the advisory board and has received a research grant
from Cytochroma Inc. and is a member of the Genzyme speakers’ bureau.
Susan J. Whiting is a member of the International Institute for Nutrition
and Bone Health, an educational initiative sponsored by Yoplait. She has
received current or recent funding in the form of grants and contracts from
the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Foundation
for Dietetic Research. She is a nutrition consultant to Osteoporosis Canada.
She has presented talks with sponsorship from the Dairy Farmers of
Canada, the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associa-
tions, the Vitamin D Society, GlaxoSmithKline and Amway/Nutrilite.
William D. Leslie has received speaker fees and unrestricted research
grants from Merck Frosst Canada Ltd; unrestricted research grants from
Sanofi-Aventis, Procter and Gamble Pharmaceuticals Canada, Novartis,
Amgen Pharmaceuticals Canada and Genzyme Canada; and has served on
advisory boards for Genzyme Canada, Novartis and Amgen Pharmaceuti-
cals Canada. Robert G. Josse has received speaking honoraria and/or
research grants from and/or sits on advisory boards for the following com-
panies: Eli Lilly Canada, Merck Frosst Canada, Warner Chilcott, Novartis
Canada, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Amgen Canada. None
declared for Ann Cranney, David E.C. Cole, Stephanie A. Atkinson, Sidney
Feldman, Gregory A. Kline and Cheryl Rosen.
Contributors: All authors are members of the Vitamin D Working Group of
the Guidelines Committee of the Scientific Advisory Council of Osteoporosis
Canada. All authors participated in the conception and design of the vitamin
D guideline project. David Hanley oversaw the writing project, recruited
committee members, and edited and revised all section submissions. Ann
Cranney wrote the Methods section and the section entitled “Traditional roles
of vitamin D” and was one of the reviewers of the abstracts identified in the
literature search. Glenville Jones wrote the section entitled “Assessment of
vitamin D,” Susan Whiting wrote the section entitled “Sources of vitamin D”
and William Leslie wrote the section entitled “Nontraditional roles of vitamin
D.” All authors contributed to the review and revision of the entire manu-
script and approved the final version submitted for publication.
Acknowledgements: The document was reviewed and approved by the
Guidelines Committee of the Scientific Advisory Council of Osteoporosis
Canada (chaired by William D. Leslie): Angela Cheung, Kerry Siminoski,
Alexandra Papaioannou, Sophie Jamal, Anthony Hodsman and Jacques
Brown. The assistance of Loretta Hillier in editing and abridging this docu-
ment is greatly appreciated.
Funding: Osteoporosis Canada received a grant from the Ontario Ministry
of Health and Long-Term Care to develop these guidelines as a part of a
larger project to develop guidelines for the investigation and management
Endorsements: Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists, Canadian Associa-
tion of Nuclear Medicine, Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Geriatrics
Society, Canadian Orthopaedic Association, Canadian Society of Endocrinol-
ogy and Metabolism, Dietitians of Canada, Ontario Association of Radiolo-
gists, Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
Table 3: Key changes to the vitamin D guidelines in the 2002 guidelines for the management of osteoporosis
1 Changes in the current guidelines*
Recommended vitamin D intake from all sources†
• Men and women < 50 yr: 400 IU (10 μg)/day
• Men and women ≥ 50 yr: 800 IU (20 μg)/day
For most healthy adults, regardless of age, the recommended vitamin
D3 intake is 800–1000 IU (20–25 μg) per day. For individuals at high
risk for vitamin D deficiency, supplementation at doses between 800
and 2000 IU (20–50 μg) per day is recommended, with potential for
For individuals receiving pharmacologic therapy for osteoporosis,
vitamin D deficiency should be considered and serum 25-OH-D
measured, either at initial assessment if the person is already taking
recommended supplementation or after 3 months of vitamin D
Measurement of serum 25-OH-D not recommended
Note: 25-OH-D = 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
*Additional new guidelines are presented in Box 1.
†The term “all sources” refers to the total of dietary intake and supplementation.
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Hanley DA, Cranney A, Jones G, et al.; for the Guidelines Committee of the Scien-
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Correspondence to: Dr. David A. Hanley, University of Calgary
Health Sciences Centre, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary AB
T2N 4N1; firstname.lastname@example.org
This full review and guideline of vitamin D in adult health
and disease was prepared by a committee of authors chosen
by the Guidelines Committee of the Scientific Advisory
Council of Osteoporosis Canada. The guideline is an update
of the vitamin D section of the complete osteoporosis clinical
practice guidelines of Osteoporosis Canada, published in
2002. A summary of this article is available online at