A research team based at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has found that a surprising number of adult hospital inpatients were deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient required for the maintenance of healthy bones. In their study of 290 patients admitted to the hospital's medical service, they found that 57 percent could be considered deficient in vitamin D and 22 percent severely deficient. The patients represented a wide range of ages and medical diagnoses; and even in a subgroup of 77 patients with no known risk factors for vitamin D deficiency, 41 percent showed levels that could be considered deficient. The report appears in the March 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Although we expected to see significant levels of vitamin D deficiency in the patients studied, we were that surprised the results were so dramatic," says Joel Finkelstein, MD, of the MGH endocrine unit, the paper's senior author. "This finding suggests that vitamin D deficiency is more common than currently appreciated in the general population as well."
Vitamin D helps the body absorb minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which are critical components of bone. The body manufactures the vitamin in response to sunlight, and its primary dietary source is through fortified dairy products. Vitamin D deficiency in adults can cause a softening of the bones called osteomalacia and is associated with an increased risk of fractures in the elderly.
The team studied two groups of patients: 150 who were consecutively admitted to
the MGH medical service in March 1994 and 140 consecutively admitted in
September 1994. Previous studies had found that vitamin D levels were lowest
and highest during these months among people in the Boston area. The
researchers reviewed patients' records for a variety of characteristics that
might affect vitamin D levels, interviewed participants about their diets and
sun exposure, and tested blood samples for levels of vitamin D and
Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital