Vitamin D Research Centre

We engage in a diverse range of research into conditions where vitamin D deficiency is potentially damaging to health.

What we do

Vitamin D deficiency is implicated in a wide range of disease conditions, so the scope for research into vitamin D is broad.

Researchers at Massey have expertise in a number of physiological conditions and lifecycle stages where vitamin D deficiency is potentially damaging to health in both the short and long term. These include:

  • bone health
  • metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • respiratory infection
  • obesity and muscle strength
  • during pregnancy, infancy and childhood, as well as older age.

Massey's vitamin D researchers are motivated to improve awareness of population groups that are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and the associated negative health consequences, and works with health professionals in clinical and community settings.

The Vitamin D Research Centre is based in the College of Health and incorporates researchers from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition and the School of Health Science on both the Manawatū and Auckland campuses.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a steroid hormone whose production and metabolism begins in the skin with exposure to ultraviolet beta rays.

It was initially identified in relation to the development of rickets, and has long been recognised to be a critical component in bone health and the maintenance of calcium balance in the body.

Vitamin D deficiency

Research into vitamin D deficiency over the past 40 years has identified links to diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, auto-immune diseases and diabetes.

Over the same period, concerns about the relationship between excessive exposure to sunlight and the development of skin cancer have resulted in many people avoiding the sun altogether.

As a result, vitamin D deficiency is becoming epidemic, even in countries such as New Zealand and Australia which have plentiful sunshine.

Importance of vitamin D research

In many cases, the evidence for a role of vitamin D deficiency in the development of a certain disease is lacking.

Often large population studies can suggest a strong association between a particular disease and low vitamin D levels, but do not establish cause and effect. Randomised, placebo-controlled trials are required to provide conclusive evidence.

Researchers at Massey were the first to conduct such a trial and demonstrate a role for vitamin D deficiency in the development of insulin resistance, a condition which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

The centre's previous work has also included investigating the effect of vitamin supplementation on disease conditions including psoriasis and autism, as well as learning more about the status of different population groups living in New Zealand.

Our research

Just as the interests of the Vitamin D Research Centre members are broad and far-reaching, so too are the potential consequences of vitamin D deficiency.

The mothers and health professionals vitamin D study

A nationwide survey of the attitudes, knowledge and behaviours of 9,000 mothers of young children, and the health professionals who interact with them was first conducted in 2010.

In 2013 the Ministry of Health published guidelines for sun exposure and vitamin D supplementation in pregnant women and infants. We surveyed health professionals (in 2019) and parents (in 2021) again to see if knowledge and behaviours had changed over time, and if Ministry of Health advice was being communicated and acted upon.

The children’s bone study

An observational study of a large cohort (500+) of primary school children, their wintertime vitamin D status and factors affecting both vitamin D status and bone health.

A follow-up study recruited 100 students and measured vitamin D status at the end of summer and again end of winter to assess seasonal variation and UVB exposure at both time points.

The VIVID study

A cross-sectional investigation of the role of vitamin D in iron deficiency considering ethnic differences, inflammatory status and hepcidin.

Findings confirmed those from other studies which demonstrated that both iron and vitamin D concentrations were lower in women of South Asian origin compared with New Zealand European women.

VIDOMA study

A randomised, placebo-controlled vitamin D supplementation trial investigating the effect of improving vitamin D status on severity of symptoms in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

This 4-arm study supplemented children with either vitamin D, high DHA omega-3 fatty acids, a combination of both, or a placebo for 12 months. A subsequent secondary analysis considered the effect of supplementation when the participants were stratified by inflammatory status.

The Middle Eastern women’s health study

Part one: An investigation of the vitamin D status and potential risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in Middle Eastern women.

This was a pilot study to determine inclusion/exclusion criteria for a dose response trial with vitamin D supplementation carried out in 2013. The trial clearly demonstrated the dose/response relationship with two different doses of vitamin D, and the key factors affecting the response to supplementation.

Psoriasis vitamin D supplementation trial

A randomised, placebo-controlled vitamin D supplementation trial investigating the effect of improving vitamin D status on severity of symptoms in adults with psoriasis.

Adults 18 years plus living in Auckland were recruited for this study which was funded by a Lottery Health grant.

Preschoolers and vitamin D: Te Ra Whakaora

A survey of the vitamin D status of New Zealand pre-schoolers aged 2–4 years old and its relationship with the incidence of respiratory diseases, eczema and allergy.

Children were recruited during August and September 2012 and blood spots from a finger-prick were used for the vitamin D analysis. This study was funded by a grant from the New Zealand Health Research Council.

The Sunflower Study

A randomised, placebo-controlled vitamin D supplementation trial in adolescent female ballet dancers investigating the effect of vitamin D supplementation on muscle strength, bone health and winter illness.

Young dancers, aged 13–18 years old were recruited for the 12-month study from late March 2012. This study was funded by a Massey University Research Fund grant.

Kalya Study

The Kalya Study explored the vitamin D status, bone health and muscle strength of young women aged 20–29 years old of European, Chinese, Korean and South Asian ethnicities living in Auckland.

The study was initiated in response to findings of very poor bone mineral density in young women in the Surya Study, and subsequently found poor vitamin D status, and moderately low calcium intake resulting in low bone density in young South Asian women.

Surya Study Phase 1

The vitamin D status of South Asian women living in New Zealand – an assessment of the vitamin D status of South Asian women living in Auckland, their attitudes towards sun exposure, their diet and bone health.

Surya Study Phase 2

One of the first vitamin D randomised controlled trials in the world looking at a health outcome other than bone. The Surya Study demonstrated that the improvement of vitamin D status in women who were vitamin D deficient and insulin resistant could also improve insulin sensitivity.

The positive findings of the Surya Study have attracted considerable attention around the world.

Who we are

Team members are drawn from across Massey's Auckland and Manawatū campuses.

Professor Pamela von Hurst

Professor Pamela von Hurst

Professor of Human Nutrition
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition
Associate Professor Kathryn Beck

Associate Professor Kathryn Beck

Associate Professor
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition
Associate Professor Cathryn Conlon

Associate Professor Cathryn Conlon

Associate Professor
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition
Professor Rozanne Kruger

Professor Rozanne Kruger

Professor in Dietetics and Human Nutrition
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition
Professor Marlena Kruger

Professor Marlena Kruger

MSc, PhD
Associate Dean Higher Degree Research,Doctoral Mentor Supervisor,Professor in Nutritional Physiology
Department
School of Health Sciences
College
College of Health
Campus
Manawatū campus, Palmerston North

Professor Kruger is an established academic with over 200 peer reviewed publications. She is a world renowned expert on lipids and bone health. Her main focus in research includes dairy foods, bioactives and lipids in bone health. Her current research focuses on marine foods and bioactives for maintaining bone and joint health and mobility.

Dr Claire Badenhorst

Dr Claire Badenhorst

Senior Lecturer
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition

Hajar Mazahery

Post Doctoral Fellow
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition

Collaborators

Professor Carlos Camargo

Massachusetts General Hospital, Ma, USA

Assistant Professor Keith Van Haran MD

Department of Neurology, Stanford University

Professor Robert Scragg

School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Dr Beatrix Jones

Statistics, University of Auckland

Dr Welma Stonehouse

CSIRO, Adelaide, Australia

Prof Darryl Eyles

Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, Australia

Assistant Professor Andrew Foskett

Exercise and Sport Science, Massey University, Albany.

Dr Mark Fulcher

Sports Physician, Unisports Sports Medicine Centre, East Tamaki, Auckland

Dr Cameron Grant

Associate Professor Paediatrics, Starship Children’s Hospital, Auckland

Professor David Raubenheimer

Charles Perkins Centre, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney

Publications

Vitamin D

A selection of our recent publications.

Beck, K. L., Mitchell, S., Foskett, A., Conlon, C. A., von Hurst, P. R. (2014). Dietary intake, anthropometric characteristics, and iron and vitamin D status of female adolescent ballet dancers living in New Zealand. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

Beck, K. L., Thomson, J. S., Swift, R. J., von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and post-exercise recovery. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine 6. 259–267.

Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., O'Brien, W. J. & Badenhorst, C. E. (2021) Micronutrients and athletic performance: A review. Food Chem Toxicol, 2021 Oct 15. 112618. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2021.112618. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34662692.

Cairncross, C. T., Grant, C. C., Stonehouse, W., Conlon, C. A., McDonald, B., Houghton, L. A., Eyles, D., Camargo Jr, C. A., Coad, J., von Hurst, P. R. (2016). The relationship between vitamin D status and allergic diseases in New Zealand preschool children. Nutrients 8(6), 326. DOI:10.3390/nu8060326.

Cairncross, C. T., Grant, C. C., Stonehouse, W., Conlon, C. A., McDonald, B., Houghton, L. A., Eyles, D., Camargo Jr, C. A., Coad, J., von Hurst, P. R. (2016). (2016). Predictors of vitamin D status in New Zealand preschool children. Maternal and Child Nutrition. DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12340.

Coad, J., & von Hurst, P. R. (2011). Shining the light on vitamin D. Food New Zealand, 10(7). 26–27.

Delshad, M., Beck, K. L., Conlon, C. A., Mugridge, O., Kruger, M. C., Jensen, B. P., Ma, J., von Hurst, P. R. (2019). Wintertime vitamin D status and its related risk factors among children living in Auckland, New Zealand. NZ Medical Journal, 132. 1504.

Delshad M., Beck K. L., Conlon C. A., Mugridge O., Kruger M. C., von Hurst P. R. (2020). Fracture risk factors among children living in New Zealand. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

von Hurst, P. R., & Beck, K. L. (2014). Vitamin D and skeletal muscle function in athletes. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 08/2014. DOI: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000105.

von Hurst, P. R., Coad, J., Holland, S. (2015). Optimising response to chemotherapy in colorectal cancer patients by ensuring adequate vitamin D status. Austin Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2(4). 1027.

von Hurst, P. R., Moorhouse, R. J., Raubenheimer, D. (2015). Preferred natural food of breeding kakapo is a high value source of calcium and vitamin D. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. First published online 28 October 2015.

von Hurst, P. R., Conlon, C. A., Foskett, A. (2013). Vitamin D predicts hand-grip strength in young adult women living in Auckland, New Zealand. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 136. 330–32.

von Hurst, P. R., Kruger, M. C., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Bone density, calcium intake and vitamin D status in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand. Nutrition and Dietetics, 67(3). 150–154.

von Hurst, P. R., Kruger, M. C., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D supplementation suppresses age-induced bone turnover in older women who are vitamin D deficient. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 121. 293–296.

von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D supplementation reduces insulin resistance in South Asian women living in New Zealand who are insulin resistant and vitamin D deficient – a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 103. 549–55.

von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D status and attitudes towards sun exposure in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand. Public Health Nutrition, 13(4). 531–536.

von Hurst, P. R. "3-D Vision" A view from Australia and New Zealand, invited editorial. Complete Nutrition Australasia 4(6). 21.

von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Matthys, C., Conlon, C., Kruger ,M. C., Coad, J. (2008). Study Protocol: Metabolic syndrome, vitamin D and bone status in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. BMC Public Health, 8. 267.

von Hurst, P. R., Conlon, C. A., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J., Kruger, M. C. (2010). Factors affecting BMD in young New Zealand women of Indian, Chinese and Caucasian ethnicities. Osteoporosis International, 21 (Suppl 5). S667.

von Hurst, P. R., Kruger, M. C., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Bone density, calcium intake and vitamin D status in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand. Nutrition and Dietetics, 67(3). 150–154.

von Hurst, P. R., Kruger, M. C., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D supplementation and markers of bone turnover. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 121. 293–296.

von Hurst, P.R., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D supplementation reduces insulin resistance in South Asian women living in New Zealand who are insulin resistant and vitamin D deficient – a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 103. 549–55

von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Coad, J. (2010). Vitamin D status and attitudes towards sun exposure in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand. Public Health Nutrition, 13(4). 531–536.

von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Matthys, C., Conlon, C., Kruger, M. C., Coad, J. (2008). Study Protocol: Metabolic syndrome, vitamin D and bone status in South Asian women living in Auckland, New Zealand: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. BMC Public Health, 8. 267.

Ingram M. A., Jones M. B., Stonehouse, W., Jarrett, P., Scragg, R., Mugridge, O., von Hurst P. R. (2018). Oral vitamin D3 supplementation for chronic plaque psoriasis: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. Published online: DOI: 10.1080/09546634.2018.1444728.

Jain, R., von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Love, D. R., Higgins, C. M., Coad, J. (2012). Association of vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms with insulin resistance, and response to vitamin D. Metabolism, 61(3). 293–301.

Jain, R., von Hurst, P. R., Stonehouse, W., Love D. R., Higgins, C. M., Coad J. (2012). Association of vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms with insulin resistance, and response to vitamin D. Metabolism. 61(3), 293–301.

Kruger, M. C., von Hurst, P. R., Booth, C. L., Todd, J. M., Kuhn-Sherlock, B., Schollum, L. M. (2014). Postprandial responses of serum calcium, parathyroid hormone and C-telopeptide of type 1 collagen to three doses of calcium delivered in milk. Journal of Nutritional Science, 3(e6). 1 of 9. DOI:10.1017/jns.2014.2.

Kruger, M. C., Schollum, L. M., Kuhn-Sherlock, B., Hestiantoro, A., Wijanto, P., Li-Yu, J., Agdeppa, I., Todd, J. M., Eastell, R. (2010). The effect of a fortified milk drink on vitamin D status and bone turnover in post-menopausal women from South East Asia. Bone, 46, 759–767.

Lim K., Beck K. L., von Hurst P. R., Rutherfurd-Markwick K., Badenhorst C.E. (2020). Iron deficiency and risk factors in pre-menopausal females living in Auckland, New Zealand. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 29(3), 638–647.

Mazahery, H., Camargo Jr. C. A., Conlon, C., Beck, K. L., Kruger, M. C., von Hurst, P. R. (2016). Vitamin D and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A literature review. Nutrients, 8(4). 236. DOI: 10.3390/nu8040236.

Mazahery, H., Conlon, C. A., Beck, K. L., Mugridge, O., Kruger, M. C., Stonehouse, W., Camargo Jr, C. A., Meyer, B. J., Tsang, B., von Hurst, P. R. (2020). Inflammation (IL-1β) modifies the effect of vitamin D and omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nutrients, 12(3). 661.

Mazahery, H., Conlon, C. A., Beck, K. L., Mugridge, O., Kruger, M. C., Stonehouse, W., Camargo Jr., C. A., Meyer, B. J., Tsang, B., Jones, B., von Hurst, P. R. (2019). A randomised-controlled trial of vitamin D and omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. First published online 4 January 2019.

Mazahery, H., Conlon, C. A., Beck, K. L., Mugridge, O., Kruger, M. C., Stonehouse, W., Camargo Jr., C. A., Meyer, B. J., Jones, B., von Hurst, P. R. (2018). A randomised controlled trial of vitamin D and omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of irritability and hyperactivity among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. First published online 26 October 2018, DOI: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2018.10.017.

Mazahery, H., Conlon, C., Beck, K., Kruger, M.C., Stonehouse, W., Camargo Jnr, C. A., Meyer, B., Tsang, B., Mugridge, O., von Hurst, P. R. (2016). Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a study protocol for a factorial randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Trials, 17. 295.

Mazahery H., Gammon C.S., Lawgun D., Conlon C. A, Beck K. L., von Hurst P. R. (2021) Pre-diabetes prevalence and associated factors in New Zealand school children: a cross-sectional study. NZ Medical Journal, 134(1531), 76–90.

Mazahery, H., Stonehouse, W., Delshad, M., Kruger, M. C. Conlon, C. A., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R. (2017). Relationship between long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control and randomised controlled trials. Nutrients 9(2). 155. DOI: 10.3390/nu9020155.

Mazahery, H., Stonehouse, W., von Hurst, P. R. (2015). The effect of monthly 50,000IU or 100,000IU vitamin D supplements on vitamin D status in premenopausal Middle Eastern women living in Auckland. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69(3). 367–72.

Mazahery, H., & von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Factors affecting 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in response to vitamin D supplementation. Nutrients, 7(7). 5111–5142. DOI:10.3390/nu7075111.

Contact the Vitamin D Research Centre

Professor Pamela von Hurst

Professor Pamela von Hurst

Professor of Human Nutrition
Department
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition