Vitamin D: 100 years of discoveries, yet controversy continues

Document Type


Publication Date



Endocrinology & Diabetes

Journal Title

The lancet. Diabetes & endocrinology


Over the past 100 years, many major breakthroughs and discoveries have occurred in relation to vitamin D research. These developments include the cure of rickets in 1919, the discovery of vitamin D compounds, advances in vitamin D molecular biology, and improvements in our understanding of endocrine control of vitamin D metabolism. Furthermore, recommended daily allowances for vitamin D have been established and large clinical trials of vitamin D, aimed at clarifying the effect of Vitamin D in the prevention of multiple diseases, have been completed. However, disappointingly, these clinical trials have not fulfilled the expectations many had 10 years ago. In almost every trial, various doses and routes of administration did not show efficacy of vitamin D in preventing fractures, falls, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and respiratory infections. Although concerns about side-effects of long-term high-dose treatments, such as hypercalcaemia and nephrocalcinosis, have been around for four decades, some trials from the past 5 years have had new and unexpected adverse events. These adverse events include increased fractures, falls, and hospitalisations in older people (aged >65 years). Several of these clinical trials were powered appropriately for a primary outcome but did not include dose response studies and were underpowered for secondary analyses. Furthermore, more attention should be paid to the safety of high doses of vitamin D supplementation, particularly in older people. In addition, despite universal recommendations by osteoporosis societies for combining calcium supplements with vitamin D there remains insufficient data about their efficacy and effect on fracture risk in the highest risk groups. More trials are needed for people with severe vitamin D deficiency (ie, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D <25nmol/L [10ng/mL]). In this Personal View, we summarise and discuss some of the major discoveries and controversies in the field of vitamin D.