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NEW YORK — People taking oral steroids are twice as likely as the general population to have severe vitamin D deficiency, according to a study of more than 31,000 children and adults by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University released last week.
Their findings, published in the Sept. 28 online edition of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggested that physicians should more diligently monitor vitamin D levels in patients being treated with oral steroids.
“When doctors write that prescription for steroids and they’re sending the patients for lab tests, they should also get the vitamin D level measured,” stated study lead author Amy Skversky, assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein.
The severe vitamin D deficiency assessed in this study (defined as levels below 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood) is known to be associated with osteomalacia (softening of the bones), rickets (softening of bones in children) and clinical myopathy (muscle weakness). While there is much debate on the issue, vitamin D levels between 20 and 50 ng/ml are generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals. Steroids have been shown to cause vitamin D deficiency, possibly by increasing levels of an enzyme that inactivates the vitamin.