British Journal of Nutrition

Short Communication

Traditionally living populations in East Africa have a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration of 115 nmol/l

Martine F. Luxwoldaa1 c1 , Remko S. Kuipersa1 , Ido P. Kemaa1, D. A. Janneke Dijck-Brouwera1 and Frits A. J. Muskieta1

a1 Laboratory Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), PO Box 30.001, 9700 RB, Groningen, The Netherlands


Cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D by exposure to UVB is the principal source of vitamin D in the human body. Our current clothing habits and reduced time spent outdoors put us at risk of many insufficiency-related diseases that are associated with calcaemic and non-calcaemic functions of vitamin D. Populations with traditional lifestyles having lifelong, year-round exposure to tropical sunlight might provide us with information on optimal vitamin D status from an evolutionary perspective. We measured the sum of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and D3 (25(OH)D) concentrations of thirty-five pastoral Maasai (34 (sd 10) years, 43 % male) and twenty-five Hadzabe hunter–gatherers (35 (sd 12) years, 84 % male) living in Tanzania. They have skin type VI, have a moderate degree of clothing, spend the major part of the day outdoors, but avoid direct exposure to sunlight when possible. Their 25(OH)D concentrations were measured by liquid chromatography–MS/MS. The mean serum 25(OH)D concentrations of Maasai and Hadzabe were 119 (range 58–167) and 109 (range 71–171) nmol/l, respectively. These concentrations were not related to age, sex or BMI. People with traditional lifestyles, living in the cradle of mankind, have a mean circulating 25(OH)D concentration of 115 nmol/l. Whether this concentration is optimal under the conditions of the current Western lifestyle is uncertain, and should as a possible target be investigated with concomitant appreciation of other important factors in Ca homeostasis that we have changed since the agricultural revolution.

(Received June 14 2011)

(Revised November 25 2011)

(Accepted November 28 2011)

(Online publication January 23 2012)

Key Words:

  • 25-Hydroxyvitamin D;
  • Evolution;
  • Maasai;
  • Hadzabe


c1 Corresponding author: M. F. Luxwolda, fax +31 50 361 2290, email


  These authors contributed equally to this work.

  Abbreviations: 25(OH)D, 25-hydroxyvitamin D; nd, not detectable