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J Bone Miner Res. 2005 Mar;20(3):464-70. Epub 2004 Nov 29.

Effects of low-dose prednisone on bone metabolism.

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Endocrinology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Prednisone 5 mg/day suppresses multiple indices of bone formation in a randomized placebo-controlled trial in healthy postmenopausal females. This suggests that even low doses of prednisone may reduce bone repair or renewal and may have adverse effects on bone mass and/or bone strength.


High doses of chronic glucocorticoids are known to have adverse effects on bone, and measures to prevent bone loss are well established for doses >7.5 mg daily, because these doses can cause premature or exaggerated osteoporosis. However, it is unclear if chronic prednisone doses of 5 mg daily have the same effects on bone. There are no established recommendations for preventing glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis in people taking prednisone 5 mg daily, a dose used frequently in medical practice to treat diseases of the lungs, joints, skin, muscles, eyes, nerves, etc. Our primary objective was to test whether prednisone 5 mg daily affects serum and urine indices of bone metabolism in healthy postmenopausal women. Our secondary objectives were to determine if prednisone 5 mg affected systolic or diastolic blood pressure or causes side effects.


A double-blinded randomized placebo-controlled 8-week trial in 50 healthy postmenopausal women was conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital Outpatient General Clinical Research Center. Patients were randomly assigned to prednisone 5 mg daily or matching placebo for 6 weeks, followed by a 2-week recovery phase. Markers of bone formation and resorption were determined at weeks 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8. Indices of osteoblast activity included serum propeptide of type I N-terminal procollagen (PINP), propeptide of type I C-terminal procollagen (PICP), osteocalcin, and bone-specific alkaline phosphatase (BSALP). Indices of osteoclast activity included urine and serum type I collagen N-telopeptide (NTX) and free urinary deoxypyridinoline (DPD).


Prednisone rapidly and significantly decreased serum PINP (p < 0.01), PICP (p < 0.01), and osteocalcin (p < 0.01) and free urinary deoxypyridinoline (p = 0.017). These changes were largely reversed during the recovery period. Side effects were indistinguishable in the two groups. Neither systolic nor diastolic blood pressure changed significantly throughout the study between the two groups. In conclusion, low-dose prednisone significantly decreases indices of bone formation and may decrease indices of bone resorption in postmenopausal women. Further studies are needed to assess the effects of low-dose prednisone on BMD and fracture risk.

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