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Abstract

UVB from the sun and intake from food are the only human sources of vitamin D. Tibet is a unique region for comparisons of these sources: (1) it lies at a low latitude and at a high altitude and has very large annual fluences of UVB; (2) the traditional Tibetan food is poor in vitamin D. Blood samples were taken from 63 persons of different age, with different occupations and staying at different places. UVB doses at these places were measured. The samples were analyzed by a standard radioimmune assay for determination of the serum concentration of 25 hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D). The main finding was that among nomads, there seems to be severe vitamin D deficiency (serum levels of 25(OH)D < 30 nm). We tentatively propose that the low level of 25(OH)D of nomads is related to their clothing and sun exposure habits. For persons of other occupations (students, teachers and farmers) the levels are higher, although a significant fraction of these persons also have lower levels than 75 nm, by many regarded as a limit for insufficiency related to a number of negative health conditions. The annual dose of vitamin D-generating UVB is about five times larger in Lhasa than in Oslo. Despite this, the average vitamin D status seems to be similar, except in the case of nomads. This phenomenon is certainly related to food habits. In conclusion, the 25(OH)D status among nomads in Tibet appears to be alarmingly low. However, for people of other occupations the status is more normal.