Metabolic bone disease has long been recognized in chronic liver disease, especially cholestatic or alcoholic liver diseases. The aim of the present study was to investigate the prevalence and severity of osteodystrophy in cirrhotic men and the correlation of its incidence with the clinical severity of cirrhosis in an endemic area of post-necrotic hepatitis. We measured serum levels of osteocalcin, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, parathyroid hormone mid-molecule, calcium and testosterone in 74 cirrhotic men (Child-Pugh's classification grade A n = 30, B n = 21 and C n = 23) and 16 healthy controls. Standard X-rays and bone mineral densities of lumbar spine were performed in 30 patients with post-necrotic cirrhosis and 10 healthy controls. Serum levels of osteocalcin, parathyroid hormone and testosterone were significantly lower in patients with cirrhosis than in controls. Changes paralleling an increased severity of cirrhosis were found in serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D and testosterone, but not in the serum levels of osteocalcin and parathyroid hormone. The lumbar bone mineral density was significantly lower in patients with post-necrotic cirrhosis than in controls (0.97 +/- 0.13) vs 1.07 +/- 0.12 g/cm2, P < 0.05) and was correlated with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (r = 0.467; P < 0.005). There was no correlation between the bone mineral density and serum osteocalcin or the clinical severity of cirrhosis. The prevalence of spinal osteoporosis, as defined by a lumbar bone mineral density greater than two standard deviations below the mean value of the controls, was 20% in cirrhotic patients compared with 10% in controls. Two (6.7%) patients (both grade C) had spinal compression fractures compared with none in the control group. In conclusion, serum osteocalcin and lumbar bone mineral density were significantly lower in cirrhotic men than in controls. However, they were not correlated with each other or the clinical severity of cirrhosis.