Vitamin D in Dialysis: Defining Deficiency and Rationale for Supplementation


Address correspondence to: Richard Francis Singer, Department of Renal Medicine, The Canberra Hospital, Australian National University Medical School, Level 8, Building 1, PO Box 11, Woden, ACT 2605, Australia, Tel.: +61-2624-42222, Fax: +61-2624-43281, or e-mail:


Vitamin D status is determined by the serum concentration of one of its metabolites, 25-hydroxy-D. Defining vitamin D deficiency based on its classical roles in gut calcium absorption and bone mineralization is problematic in dialysis patients and, until recently, was ignored in the nephrology literature. The newly recognized nonclassical functions of vitamin D include effects on the immune system, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The nonclassical effects are likely to be equally relevant in the dialysis population, but suffer from a lack of strong evidence on which to base therapeutic targets. Past medical opinion in the nondialysis population warned that higher dose vitamin D supplementation may be toxic and was unnecessary. This is because older supplementation recommendations were based on early twentieth century studies using cod-liver oil to treat rickets. The clinical resolution of rickets requires a relatively low dose of vitamin D. Current vitamin D guidelines generally target higher 25-hydroxy-D levels of 30 ng/ml, based on optimizing markers of bone health. This results in very high estimates of 50–100% for the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in dialysis patients. This review examines the relevance of data on the classical and nonclassical effects of vitamin D in dialysis patients. An evidence-based dosing regimen for use in dialysis patients is suggested to safely and reliably achieve vitamin D sufficiency.