Calcium Supplements, Vitamin Don't Help Prevent Fractures

By Amir Khan on June 14, 2012 8:19 AM EDT

Calcium
Calcium supplements, pictured, don't prevent fractures, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said on Tuesday (Photo: Creative Commons)

For years, the prevailing wisdom for older women was to take calcium supplements and vitamin D supplements to prevent fractures. But according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the supplements might not do much at all.

Researchers studied over 36,000 postmenopausal women and found that vitamin D supplements and calcium supplements did no better than a placebo at preventing fractures.

"There's one clear recommendation and a lot of other areas where we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other," Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a doctor with the task force, told U.S. News and World Report. "What we can say in this case is that there's no evidence of benefit and in one case [with postmenopausal women], there's a small but measurable harm with the increased risk of kidney stones."

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The panel concluded that postmenopausal women should "definitely not" take calcium or low-dose amount of vitamin D to prevent fractures. It's unclear, however, if larger doses of vitamin D could help.

"There isn't evidence to suggest that 400 IU of vitamin D plus 1,000 milligrams calcium can prevent fractures among postmenopausal women who do not live in assisted living or nursing home facilities," Bibbins-Domingo told WebMD. "We know that vitamin D is important, and that a healthy lifestyle should include sources of vitamin D. It's just not good for preventing fractures at the doses studied."

After menopause, women develop bone loss and osteoporosis, which weakens their bones and can lead to falls and fractures.

Osteoporosis mainly affects women -- 8 million women have the disease compared to 2 million men, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.  The disease typically affects people over the age of 50; European or Asian decedents have a higher risk.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, gender and family history as well as controllable risk factors such as poor diet or lifestyle choices.

One of the biggest controllable risk factors is low calcium intake, according to the Mayo Clinic. A lack of calcium contributes to poor bone density and bone loss. Other dietary factors include a high protein diet and daily consumption of cola.

Vitamin D is naturally produced in the body when we are exposed to sunlight and is added to milk as well. However, it can be difficult to get the amounts we need, so supplements are often needed.

"Many experts do believe that we are relatively deficient in vitamin D as a nation, and people who wish to take supplements should talk to their doctor," Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told WebMD.

Kathleen Cody, executive director of American Bone Health, agrees with Licthenfeld.

"When you read the [task force's] report, three of the conclusions have insufficient evidence to make any recommendation," she told U.S. News and World Report. "I think the bottom line is that people should try to get their calcium from their diet, but if they can't, they need to talk to their doctor about supplementation."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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