Lead author Dr. Amy Skversky, assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, said physicians should more diligently monitor vitamin D levels in patients being treated with oral steroids.
The study involved 31,000 children and adults who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001 to 2006. The severe vitamin D deficiency assessed in the study, defined as levels below 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood, is known to be associated with softening of the bones, rickets -- softening of bones in children -- and muscle weakness.
While there is much debate on the issue, vitamin D levels between 20 and 50 nanograms per milliliter are generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals, Skversky said.
Skversky said steroids have been shown to cause vitamin D deficiency, possibly by increasing levels of an enzyme that inactivates the vitamin.
"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," Skversky said in a statement.
The findings were published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.