Do you take calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones? A new study says it doesn't help

December 28, 2017 by Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

If taking more vitamin and mineral supplements is part of your plan for a healthier new year, a new study may prompt you to reconsider.

Researchers who scoured the medical literature for evidence that calcium and vitamin D pills could help prevent bone came up empty.

Their analysis focused on adults older than age 50 who lived on their own (that is, not in a nursing home or other type of residential care facility). Fractures are a serious health concern for this population—previous studies have found that about 40 percent of women in this age group will wind up with at least one "major osteoporotic fracture" at some point in their lives, and that among adults who break a hip, 20 percent died within a year of their injury.

The researchers, led by Dr. Jia-Guo Zhao of Tianjin Hospital in northeastern China, combed through clinical trials, systematic reviews and other reports published in the last decade, since late 2006. They identified 51,145 people who were included in studies assessing the role of calcium and/or vitamin D in preventing bone fractures.

Their findings appear in Tuesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among the 14 trials that pitted against either a placebo or no treatment, there was no statistically significant relationship between use of the mineral (in pill form) and the risk of suffering a . Nor was there any clear link between calcium supplements and fractures involving the spine or other bones.

Even when the researchers accounted for each study participant's gender, past history of , the amount of calcium they consumed in their diets and the dose of the calcium pills they took (if they did), there was still no sign that supplements were helpful.

An additional 17 trials examined the role of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Once again, they found no statistically significant link between supplement use and hip fracture risk. Ditto for fractures in the spine and elsewhere.

Upon drilling down to certain subgroups, they found that for people who started out with at least 20 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood, adding more vitamin D through supplements was associated with a greater risk of hip fractures. The same was true for people who took high doses of vitamin D supplements just once a year.

Finally, there were 13 trials involving people who took a combined calcium-vitamin D supplement. As before, there was no statistically significant link between supplement use and the risk for any kind of fracture or combination of fractures. That held up even when accounting for gender, past fractures, dose, dietary calcium or baseline blood levels of vitamin D.

The researchers noted that thousands of people in this final group were participants in the Women's Health Initiative, a long-term study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the U.S. Earlier reports based on data gathered by the Women's Health Initiative found that calcium and vitamin D supplements were associated with a lower risk of fractures, but only for women who took hormone therapy after menopause. To get a clearer picture of the direct link (if any) between supplements and fracture risk, Zhao and his colleagues opted not to include data from women on hormone therapy.

It's still possible that and vitamin D supplements are useful for people who live in nursing homes or other residential facilities, the study authors wrote. Such people are more likely to have osteoporosis, due to a combination of poor diet, less sun exposure (which the body needs to synthesize D) and other factors.

But for older adults who live on their own, they wrote, the results are clear: "These findings do not support the routine use of these supplements."

Explore further: Calcium, vitamin D don't seem to reduce fracture risk in seniors

More information: Jia-Guo Zhao et al. Association Between Calcium or Vitamin D Supplementation and Fracture Incidence in Community-Dwelling Older Adults, JAMA (2017). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2017.19344

Related Stories

Calcium, vitamin D don't seem to reduce fracture risk in seniors

December 27, 2017
(HealthDay)—For community-dwelling older adults, supplementation with calcium, vitamin D, or both does not reduce the incidence of fractures, according to a review published in the Dec. 26 issue of the Journal of the American ...

Calcium and vitamin D help hormones help bones

June 26, 2013
Should women take calcium and vitamin D supplements after menopause for bone health? Recommendations conflict, and opinions are strong. But now, an analysis from the major Women's Health Initiative (WHI) trial throws weight ...

Obesity may be a factor for fractures

October 20, 2017
Does body fat protect you against osteoporosis or make you more vulnerable to fractures? A new study by the University of South Australia hopes to shed light on this question.

Increasing calcium intake unlikely to boost bone health or prevent fractures, say experts

September 29, 2015
Increasing calcium intake through dietary sources or supplements is unlikely to improve bone health or prevent fractures in older people, conclude two studies published in The BMJ this week. Collectively, these results suggest ...

Vitamin D with calcium shown to reduce mortality in elderly

June 15, 2012
A study recently published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM) suggests that vitamin D—when taken with calcium—can reduce the rate of mortality in seniors, therefore ...

Less than half of elderly hip fracture patients take vitamin D supplements

March 14, 2017
Despite national recommendations for daily vitamin D intake, a new study presented today at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) found that just 45.7 percent of patients reported ...

Recommended for you

India launches 'Modicare', world's biggest health scheme

September 23, 2018
India on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme which Prime Minister Narendra Modi said would cover some 500 million poor people.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

Crunched for time? High-intensity exercise = same cell benefits in fewer minutes

September 20, 2018
A few minutes of high-intensity interval or sprinting exercise may be as effective as much longer exercise sessions in spurring beneficial improvements in mitochondrial function, according to new research. The small study ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
4 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2017
Amazing info about the fact about Vit D Sulfate. Vitamin D is not the same.
https://people.cs...ing.html
Jim4321
5 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2017
"Do you take calcium and vitamin D to protect your
bones? A new study says it doesn't help"

This headline is wrong. The study did not say that it didn't help. They found a null result. It should not be portrayed as a negative result. What they said was that they could not say that it worked. There's a world of difference between that and showing that it doesn't work. That requires a lot more work.
PPihkala
not rated yet Dec 29, 2017
There is important ingredient missing. We need calcium for the bones and vitamin D3 so that it is getting to blood. But then we need vitamin K2 to drive that calcium from blood to bones. Without K2 (K1 is for bleading prevention), that calcium stays in veins doing some harm.
deksman2
not rated yet Dec 30, 2017
Peer review studies were done on K2 MK-7 and they discovered that this vitamin is more crucial for the bones, prevents mineral depletion, falls, fractures, etc.

K2 MK-7 is also an important co-factor that needs to be used with Vitamin D3 because it also shuffles calcium into proper areas of the skeleton, avoiding tissue calcification.
K2 MK-7 can naturally be sourced only from Natto/fermented soybeans, which is usually consumed in Japan... not exactly popular in Western countries though.

But, synthetic K2 MK-7 (in supplemental form) is just as effective as the real thing and stays in the body for at least 48 hours.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.