If you thought popping calcium and vitamin D pills everyday would protect you from broken bones down the road, we've got some bad news for you.
If you thought popping calcium and vitamin D pills everyday would protect you from broken bones down the road, we've got some bad news for you. According to a new data review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, calcium and vitamin D supplement use does not seem to be associated with a lower fracture risk in the over-50 set.
Researchers combed the available medical literature for clinical trials containing the words calcium, fracture, and vitamin D, up to December 24, 2016. They then assessed each study's quality, throwing out the shoddy trials and keeping a total of 33 rigorously conducted, randomized trials with a total of 51,145 community-dwelling adults over the age of 50.
Compared to placebo pills or no treatment course at all, calcium and vitamin D supplements were not significantly associated with fewer hip, vertebral, or other fractures, regardless of dosage and regardless of subjects' dietary intake.
Calcium and vitamin D supplements have long been thought to be an effective way to prevent or ward off the effects of osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become porous and weak, leading to a greater likelihood of fractures, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
We know that calcium metabolism is catalyzed and enhanced by vitamin D, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, tells Women's Health. It's reasonable to hypothesize, then, that upping consumption would help lower a person's osteoporosis risk.
"Particularly with increasing age, bones thin out," so throwing in an extra vitamin tablet or two seems like a convenient solution to dietary deficiencies, Schaffner explained: "You don’t have to go to the doctor and get your vitamin D level checked, this is relatively inexpensive, it’s thought not to be harmful, so we might as well do these things."
Unfortunately, supplements in general are an unreliable business. Because the Food and Drug Administration does not oversee supplements and herbal remedies, their composition—and ultimately, their efficacy, remains suspect.
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While this study focused on people over the age of 50, it's difficult to say whether or not starting a supplement course earlier might make for stronger bones either, Schaffner says. "There’s not much information about the use of these supplements in any rigorous fashion in younger people," says Schaffner. "... Given the lack of effect in this population, that makes it more likely that there’s not going to be an effect in a younger population."
Instead, Schaffner recommends a balanced diet, judicious sun exposure—think: short stretches of time outside and sunscreen use—so the body can take in vitamin D, and exercise to build stronger bones. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
"Bones are not static, bones are metabolically active, they constantly get remolded," Schaffner warned. "You don’t have to train to be an Olympic athlete, but walking, gardening, bicycling, swimming, a little gentle weight resistance," all these things will help keep bones strong if done on a regular basis. In moderation, of course.