Bone health isn’t something to take for granted as we age. That’s because approximately 1.5 million fractures due to osteoporosis are reported in the United States each year. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of all women over the age of 50 will suffer this type of fracture during their lifetime. These fractures are associated with chronic pain, disability and decreased quality of life. And hip fractures significantly increase the risk of illness and death. A person who has suffered a hip fracture is up to four times more likely to die during the first three months after that injury than a person of a similar age who hasn’t had a fracture. And nearly 20 percent of older people who have hip fractures are placed in long-term care facilities.
To maintain bone health, we often turn to supplements of calcium and vitamin D. But now the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of non-feral experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine that is comprised of primary care providers, has weighed in on whether we should be taking these supplements.
To do the analysis, the task force conducted two systematic reviews of the research as well as a meta-analysis on vitamin D supplementation with or without calcium in order to assess the effects of taking supplements on bone health. They also looked at the association of vitamin D and calcium levels with bone health outcomes, as well as adverse effects of taking supplements.
The analysis found that current evidence is actually insufficient to assess the balance of harm vs. benefit of combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation in relation to the prevention of fractures in premenopausal women. Furthermore, there was insufficient evidence to assess the balance of harm vs. benefit of taking daily supplements with greater than 400 IU of vitamin D and greater than 1000 mg of calcium in order to prevent fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women. Finally, the task force stated that supplements that were 400 IU or less of vitamin D and 1000 mg or less of calcium were not found to be helpful to postmenopausal women as a primary prevention of fractures. And this dosage could actually increase the risk of kidney stones.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the presumption is that the people we are talking about here do not have known bone disease, they don’t have osteoporosis and they are not vitamin D deficient,” Dr. Virginia Moyer, a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine, and the task force chair, told Time.com. “This is supplemental, so this is above and beyond getting what the expert consensus is for what you should be getting every day.”
The task force continues to recommend that women who are 65 and older as well as younger women who are at high risk for fractures should be screened for osteoporosis. Additionally, the task force recommends vitamin D supplements in order to prevent falls in adults who dwell in a community who are 65 and older who are at an increased risk of falling. This group includes people with a vitamin D deficiency as well as people who have fallen previously.