Long-term oral corticosteroid use is an important cause of osteoporosis. For that reason, experts advise getting a bone mineral density (BMD) measurement when beginning steroid therapy (or as soon as possible thereafter) and at periodic intervals throughout treatment.

One smart step you can take to boost your bone health is to consume a sufficient amount of calcium: The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends consuming 1,200 mg of calcium daily if you're a woman over age 50 or a man over 70. Women under age 50 and men through age 70 should consume 1,000 mg.

Getting your calcium through food sources is best, but if you can’t consume enough in your diet consider taking a supplement.

Your vitamin D consumption is important as well because it helps the body absorb calcium. However, steroid use is a risk factor for low vitamin D levels. The NOF recommends 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day for women and men age 50 and over.

Only a few foods, such as canned salmon and sardines with edible bones and fortified dairy products and orange juice, are rich in vitamin D, so you may need to take a supplement to be sure you're getting enough. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine if you're deficient in vitamin D.

Depending on the dose of your steroid medication and the length of time you need to take it, some people may also need preventive treatment with a bisphosphonate, such as ibandronate (Boniva) or alendronate (Fosamax), or another osteoporosis medication.

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 20 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2013