Study Shows Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements Not Needed by Seniors

A review of the literature on the benefits of vitamin supplements for older people shows that when it comes to vitamin D and calcium, there is no evidence that supplements help.

“The routine use of these supplements is unnecessary in community-dwelling older people,” said lead researcher Dr. Jia-Guo Zhao, an orthopedic surgeon with Tianjin Hospital in China. “I think that it is time to stop taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.”

Some experts disagree with this conclusion, however. Dr. Daniel Smith, assistant professor of orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York says the study took a “bold leap.”

“The big picture, which seems to be lost in this study, is that the personal health cost of a hip fracture can be catastrophic,” said Smith.

“The potential benefit of calcium and vitamin D supplementation in preventing even a small number of hip fractures far outweighs the otherwise minimum risks associated with routine calcium and vitamin D supplementation in at-risk populations,” Smith also said.

The practice of giving seniors vitamin D and calcium supplements to strengthen their bones has been almost taken for granted as efficacious. The bones and teeth store about 99% of all the calcium in the body. Since the body cannot produce its own calcium, it has been thought that supplementing the diet with calcium would assure enough of the mineral for healthy bones and teeth and prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption by the body.

The researchers probed the medical literature looking for studies which tested the usefulness of calcium and vitamin D supplements. They found 33 clinical trials that examined over 51,000 people, all of them older than 50 and living on their own. The data showed no significant connection between calcium or vitamin D supplements and the risk of hip fractures or other broken bones.

Dr. Zhao said emphasized that calcium and Vitamin D are essential components of bone health, but you should get those things from diet and not supplements.

“Dietary calcium is irreplaceable for skeletal health. Milk, vegetable, fruit and bean products are the most important food sources of calcium. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin in response to ultraviolet-B radiation in sunlight, and dietary sources of vitamin D are limited,” Zhao said.

Exercising during the day should provide all the vitamin D a person needs.