Their findings, in the September 28 online edition of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggest 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," said study lead author Amy Skversky, M.D., M.S., 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.
Smaller studies involving people often prescribed steroids (i.e., children with asthma and patients with Crohn's disease and lupus) have found significantly reduced vitamin D levels in these patients. To further assess this association between steroid use and vitamin D levels, the Einstein researchers carried out the first-ever study of a large, nationally representative sample of people.
The researchers examined data collected from participants who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2006. About one percent of the participants answered "yes" when asked if they had used oral steroids during the previous 30 days.
Eleven percent of the self-reported steroid users had severely low vitamin D levels compared with a severe vitamin D deficiency of 5 percent for people not taking steroids—a two-fold increased risk for severe vitamin D deficiency. The risk was particularly pronounced for steroid users under 18, who were 14 times more likely to have a severe vitamin D deficiency compared with young non-steroid users. (Participants who reported using inhaled steroids were not included in the steroid-user group.)
The paper is titled "Association of Glucocorticoid Use and Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES): 2001�." Co-authors include senior author Michal Melamed, M.D., M.H.S., Matthew Abramowitz, M.D., M.S., and Frederick Kaskel, M.D., Ph.D., all at Einstein; and Juhi Kumar, M.D., M.P.H. at Weill Cornell Medical Center. This research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Institutes of Health and National Center for Research Resources, both part of the National Institutes of Health.
About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University is one of the nation's premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2009-2010 academic year, Einstein is home to 722 M.D. students, 243 Ph.D.students, 128 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and approximately 350 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has 2,775 fulltime faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2009, Einstein received more than $155 million in support from the NIH. This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Through its extensive affiliation network involving five medical centers in the Bronx, Manhattan and Long Island - which includes Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Einstein - the College of Medicine runs one of the largest post-graduate medical training programs in the United States, offering approximately 150 residency programs to more than 2,500 physicians in training. For more information, please visit www.einstein.yu.edu
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