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Intraindividual Variability in Serum Micronutrients: Effects on Reliability of Estimated Parameters

Shvetsov, Yurii B.; Hernandez, Brenda Y.; Wong, Sze H.; Wilkens, Lynne R.; Franke, Adrian A.; Goodman, Marc T.

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e318187865e
Methods: Original Article

Background: Although serum measures of micronutrients are more specific than questionnaires in quantifying nutritional status, the reliability of serum measures depends on between- and within-person variability of circulating micronutrient levels. The extent to which multiple samples per person might improve reliability is useful information for planning studies and interpreting results.

Methods: We analyzed levels of 25 micronutrients in serum samples taken from 381 Hawaii women at 4-month intervals. For all subjects and for subjects at the low and high end of the micronutrient distributions, we calculated inter- and intraindividual variability, reliability coefficients, and the number of measurements required to limit attenuation in estimated parameters (ie, to keep estimates close to their true values).

Results: For 18 of the 25 micronutrients, a single measurement provided an estimate within 20% of the true value. For regression coefficients, 2 measurements were needed to limit attenuation to no more than 20% for nearly half of the micronutrients. To achieve no more than 10% attenuation, the number of measurements required ranged from 2 to 10 for correlation and from 3 to 20 for regression coefficients. To achieve no more than 5% attenuation, the corresponding ranges were 3 to 21 for correlation and 6 to 42 regression coefficients. In general, more measurements were required for adequate characterization of subjects with relatively high levels of micronutrients than for subjects with lower levels.

Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that 2 or 3 blood measurements are enough to limit attenuation of regression coefficients within 20% of the true value for most carotenoids and tocopherols. For 10% attenuation or less, 4 or more micronutrient measurements may be needed.

From the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI.

Submitted 21 December 2007; accepted 15 July 2008; posted 23 September 2008.

Supported in part by grant CA 077813 from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, and by Cancer Center Support Grant (P30) CURE Supplement (CA71789).

Correspondence: Yurii B. Shvetsov, Epidemiology Program, Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, 1236 Lauhala Street, Honolulu, HI 96813. E-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.