'Calcium, vitamin D supplements not harmful for older people'

Faith Castro
December 28, 2017

After a study by researchers in China claimed that supplements containing calcium, vitamin D or both may not protect older adults against bone fractures, doctors in India have said that these supplements are not harmful for people at risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle.

Several nutrition industry groups said this study is not the final word and urged people to think twice about stopping supplementation based on this study alone.

Daniel Fabricant, president of the Natural Products Association, which represents manufacturers and retailers of dietary supplements, told the Washington Post the research makes its conclusions with "too broad a brush" and said the new study had limited information on the dosages involved.

"Vitamin D and calcium are necessary for better bone health and we often prescribe these in the form of supplements".

Older people in care homes are at greatest risk of fractures.

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"In fact, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans identify both calcium and vitamin D as shortfall nutrients of public health concern", she said.

While you shouldn't rely on supplements to keep your bones healthy, the study doesn't suggest that vitamin D and calcium aren't themselves useful at all.

As the world population ages, adult bone health is becoming even more of a concern. "Unfortunately, seniors are much vulnerable to calcium and vitamin D deficiency as compared to younger people because of the changes that occur with advancing age", said Avtar Singh, an orthopaedic surgeon at Amandeep Hospital in Amritsar, Punjab. She further reminded that people find it even more hard to get enough vitamin D from food because few foods are rich in vitamin D. She said that without knowing the blood levels of subjects before they began the intervention, one can't assess whether the individuals were deficient in the first place.

The researchers looked at 51,145 participants from 33 clinical trials and found that there was not a significant difference in the risk of hip fractures for those who used calcium supplements, vitamin D supplements, or both, compared to those who took a placebo or no supplements at all.

Jia-Guo Zhao of Tianjin Hospital in China, and co-authors did a meta-analysis of the studies. The findings revealed a stark lack of associations between calcium, vitamin D and fracture risk in both men and women, regardless of supplement dose or any previous history of fractures. Further, another meta-analysis using the WHI re-analysis also showed that calcium plus vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced risk of total fractures and hip fractures in middle-aged to older adults.

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