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Oral steroids may double risk of vitamin D deficiency

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

In a nationwide study, researchers have found people who take oral steroids – used to treat a variety of health conditions – are twice as likely to suffer from severe vitamin D deficiency, compared to the general population.

In the study, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University looked at data from more than 31,000 children and adults who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2006.

Eleven percent of the participants who reported taking oral steroids had severe vitamin D deficiency, compared to just 5 percent of people not taking the drugs.

Researcher recommends steroid users get vitamin D levels checked

Study lead author Amy Skversky, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein, says,

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“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.”

For the study, the researchers defined severe vitamin D deficiency as below 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Levels between 20 and 50 ng/ml are generally considered adequate for good overall health and bone strength, though much debate exists about optimal levels.

Steroids, which are widely prescribed to treat asthma, COPD, arthritic conditions, allergies and autoimmune diseases are thought to rob the body of vitamin D through increased activity of an enzyme that renders the vitamin inactive. One of the most commonly used steroids is prednisone. Other examples include prednisolone or methyprednisolone. Inhaled steroids were not studied.

The study: “Association of Glucocorticoid Use and Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES): 2001–2006”, highlights the importance of checking vitamin D level status for patients who take oral steroids to treat health conditions.

The finding shows people taking steroids are twice as likely to suffer severe vitamin D deficiency when compared to the general population. In the study, one percent of people questioned had taken a steroid drug in the past 30 days.

The study also found people under age 18 taking oral steroids were 14 times more likely to have severe deficiency of vitamin D that is essential for growth and development, immune function, calcium absorption and for preventing abnormal cell growth that could lead to cancer and other diseases.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



I always thought that if I get enough exposure to sunlight, my body will produce enough Vitamin D. Apparently if you are taking steroids, that is not true. That just comes to show you that even if you are taking the best vitamin supplements out there, if you take other medications, they mess up with the vitamin absorption process and leave you with depleted vitamin levels.
this article states that steroid may reduce your vitamin D levels but does not state a reference. Do we know if this is true because if so it is very important
Toby - It is important! The link to the study is embedded in the article - click where it says "the study" to read the abstract about vitamin D and oral steroids. You can also copy and paste the name of the article to find the research. The study result also is published at the Albert Einstein link where you can read.