tion as well as amount of time spent outdoors and total vitamin D intake. A recent study of 182 individuals in Denmark, screened in January and February and selected to reflect wide ranges of baseline 25OHD levels and skin pigmentation, found that the increase in 25OHD levels after UVB exposure was inversely correlated with skin pigmentation as well as with baseline 25OHD (Bogh et al., 2010).
A number of small studies have reported serum 25OHD levels to be consistently lower in persons with darker skin pigmentation, and data from NHANES suggest that serum 25OHD levels are highest in whites, lowest in non-Hispanic blacks, and intermediate in Hispanic groups (Looker et al., 2008). Overall, there is considerable evidence that darker skin pigmentation is associated with a smaller increase in serum 25OHD concentration for a given amount of UVB exposure.
Effect of latitude on synthesis Early on, in vitro methods, such as exposure of sealed vials of 7-dehydrocholesterol to UVB radiation under “idealized conditions” at various geographical locations, were used to assess the effect of latitude, time of day, and season on the rate of vitamin D production (Webb et al., 1988). However, this approach cannot completely simulate the in vivo conditions in the body, where many factors serve to regulate this process. Furthermore, although the measurement of vitamin D concentrations in a mixture of irradiation products is analytically simple, vitamin D3 levels in human serum are rarely used to estimate cutaneous synthesis of the vitamin, in part because of the transient nature of this blood parameter and the difficulty of measuring the low levels in serum (Holick, 1988; Hollis, 2008). Nevertheless, Holick and colleagues used a serum vitamin D3 assay to augment in vitro methodology and suggested that, at latitudes above 43°N, cutaneous synthesis contributes little serum 25OHD to the system in the winter months between October and March in North America (Webb et al., 1988; Matsuoka et al., 1989).
More recent data may call into question current assumptions about the effect of latitude. In fact, Kimlin et al. (2007), using computer modeling, concluded that it may no longer be correct to assume that vitamin D levels in populations follow latitude gradients. Indeed, the relationship between UVB penetration and latitude is complex, as a result of differences in, for example, the height of the atmosphere (50 percent less at the poles), cloud cover (more intense at the equator than at the poles), and ozone cover. The duration of sunlight in summer versus winter is another factor contributing to the complexity of the relationship. Geophysical surveys have shown that UVB penetration over 24 hours, during the summer months at Canadian north latitudes when there are many hours of sunlight, equals or exceeds UVB penetration at the equator (Lubin et al., 1998). Consequently, there is ample opportunity during the spring, summer, and fall months in the far north for humans (as well as animals that serve as food