The effect of season and latitude on in vitro vitamin D formation by sunlight in South Africa

Pettifor J.M. ; Moodley G.P. ; Hough F.S. ; Koch H. ; Chen T. ; Lu Z. ; Holick M.F. (1996)


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Aims. To assess the effect of season and latitude on the in vitro formation of previtamin D3 and vitamin D3 from 7-dehydrochloresterol (7-DHC) by sunlight in two cities in South Africa, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Methods. An in vitro study utilising vials containing 7-DHC, which were exposed to sunlight for a period of 1 hour between 8:00 and 17:00 on 1 day a month for a year. Previtamin D3 and vitamin D3 were separated from 7-DHC by high-performance liquid chromatography, and the amounts formed were calculated with the use of external standards. Results. A marked seasonal Variation in vitamin D3 production was noted in Cape Town, with very little being formed during the winter months of April through September. In Johannesburg, in vitro formation changed little throughout the year, and was similar to that found in Cape Town during the summer. During sunlit hours, vitamin D3 production was maximal at midday and small quantities were still being formed between 8:00 and 9:00, and between 16:00 and 17:00 during the summer. During winter in Cape Town, peak formation at midday was less than one-third of that in Johannesburg, and negligible amounts were formed before 10:00 and after 15:00. Conclusions. The previously documented seasonal variation in serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D recorded in patients in Johannesburg is probably a consequence of the increased clothing worn and the decreased time spent out of doors during winter, rather than decreased ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth. The limited in vitro formation of vitamin D3, during winter in Cape Town may have clinical implications insofar as the management of metabolic bone diseases like rickets and osteoporosis is concerned. Breast-fed infants resident in the area are likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency rickets unless vitamin D supplements are provided, or the mothers are encouraged to take their children out of doors.

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