As women go through menopause and age, their risk of bone fractures increases. Like many women, I’m trying to take all the precautions I can to make sure that a break doesn’t happen. These precautions include weight-bearing exercise, eating a healthy diet with foods that support bone health, and – as an extra insurance policy – taking supplements of vitamin D and calcium.
So it’s interesting that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has developed draft recommendations that notes that taking daily supplements of 400 IU of vitamin D combined with 1,000 mg of calcium may not reduce the risk of bone fracture in healthy postmenopausal women or reduce cancer risk in adults. The draft recommendation is based on a recent review of the research.
Here are three of the recommendations from the task force (and note the word “insufficient”):
- “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of vitamin D supplementation, with or without calcium for the primary prevention of cancer in adults.”
- “The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation for the primary prevention of fractures in premenopausal women or in men.”
- “The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of daily supplementation with >400 IU of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of calcium for the primary prevention of fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women.
The task force uses the term “insufficient” when there are a limited number or size of studies, important flaws in study design or methods, inconsistency of findings across individual studies, gaps in the chain of evidence, a lack of information on important health outcomes, and no generalizable findings to routine primary care practice. More information could cause the rating to change based on more research providing an estimation of the effects of these supplements on health.
The task force also made the following recommendation:
- “The USPSTF recommends against daily supplementation with ≤ 400 of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of calcium carbonate for the primary prevention of fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women.”
This recommendation received a “D recommendation,” because, according to USPSTF, “There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.”
So based on these recommendations, what should postmenopausal women do? Here are my suggestions:
- First of all, talk to your doctor about these findings. I’m not a medical doctor, but my initial thought is that I will continue to take these supplements since they also are important for other health issues. Research has found that vitamin D may provide protection from high blood pressure, cancer and several autoimmune diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic. Calcium helps the blood to clot and also supports proper functioning of nerves and muscles, reports the George Mateljan Foundation.
- If you decide to follow the USPSTF recommendations, make sure you get the necessary vitamin D and calcium from other sources. Both of these nutrients are really important to your overall health. Vitamin D is found in foods such as fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil as well as from sun exposure. In fact, 10 minutes of exposure to the sun is believed to be enough to prevent vitamin D deficiencies, according to the Mayo Clinic. The George Mateljan Foundation reports that the best sources for calcium include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, tofu, blackstrap molasses, Swiss chard, yogurt, kale, mozzarella cheese, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, basil, thyme dill seed, oregano and cinnamon.
- Do weight-bearing exercises regularly. These types of exercise, which include brisk walking, jogging or resistance exercises such as weight training, increase bone density due to the stress place on the bones through these activities, according to Livestrong.com.
- Cut out carbonated beverages that contain caffeine. These beverages cause excess calcium excretion, Livestrong.com warns. In addition, the phosphorus in carbonated beverages can upset the body’s calcium balance.
- Stop smoking. Research has found a direct relationship between smoking and lower bone density. Livestrong.com notes that by kicking this habit, you can decrease the risk of low bone density and fracture.
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