Patients receiving long-term treatment with total parenteral nutrition often develop bony abnormalities characterized by patchy osteomalacia and low bone turnover. The patients present evidence of physiologic hypoparathyroidism, although low levels of iPTH cannot entirely explain the osteomalacia. Abnormally low serum levels of 1,25(OH)2-vitamin D have been demonstrated, but the significance of these reduced levels in the pathogenesis of the bone lesions is not defined. Aluminum has been detected in large quantities in the plasma, urine, and bone of some patients treated with TPN, and there is mounting evidence that aluminum may be associated with skeletal pathology, particularly osteomalacia. There is, however, no clear documentation that aluminum accumulation produces the skeletal lesions observed, although it could be a contributing factor. There has been the unusual empiric observation that the removal of vitamin D2 from the infusate is associated with a decrease in the quantity of unmineralized osteoid in TPN patients. A possible role of vitamin D2 in producing osteomalacia is not easy to understand since normal serum levels of 25(OH)-D2, the circulating form of vitamin D2, have been reported. The long-term consequences of intravenous nutritional support for many aspects of metabolism remain unknown. Administration into the systemic circulation of predetermined quantities of calcium and phosphorus via a route that bypasses their passage across the intestinal mucosa, the portal system and the liver may have adverse consequences. It is possible that bypassing homeostatic mechanisms may affect bone formation and metabolism or lead to alterations in vitamin D sterols. Alternatively, a deficiency of an essential trace metal or the accumulation of a toxic trace substance could be responsible for the bony abnormalities. Much remains to be clarified concerning calcium homeostasis and bone disease during total parenteral nutrition. Among various possible factors, it seems likely that the significance of the low levels of 1,25(OH)2-vitamin D and of the accumulation of aluminum in this condition will soon be clarified.
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