Vitamin D, Calcium May Extend Life Despite What Govt. Task Force Says
People who take vitamin D and calcium supplements live longer than people who don't, according to a new study, published in the August edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The findings are at odds with a recent report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that said there is no benefit in taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
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Researchers followed over 70,000 older people for three years and found that people who took vitamin D and calcium supplements were less likely to die over that span. While they could not say why people were living longer, the researchers said it did not have to do with fractures, which is the major reason older people take supplements.
"It seems that calcium with vitamin D has benefits for general health, but we need more studies to understand this association," Lars Rejnmark, study author and researcher with Denmark's Aarhus University Hospital, told WebMD.
Last week, a U.S. Preventative Services Task Force 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," Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a doctor with the task force, 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 required.
"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."
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