Calcium Supplements: To Take or Not to Take?

Neil Gonter, MD Health Pro
  • Early this year, a large federal study, a part of the Women's Health Initiative, was released in the New England Journal of Medicine and was discussed in all the major newspapers as well as on many talk shows.

    Surprisingly, the results were not as promising as was anticipated. In the study of more than 36,000 middle-aged and elderly women, daily calcium and vitamin D supplements slightly reduced bone-thinning and reduced the risk of hip fractures. After an average of seven years, women who took the supplements scored only 1 percent higher on hip bone density tests than did women who took a placebo.
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    In one subgroup analysis of women over the age of 60, there was a statistically significant 21% decrease in hip fractures. This is important since at this age women were most likely to experience hip fractures.

    The study's investigators emphasized encouraging hints in the data. When they looked only at women who took 80 percent of their pills, hip fractures were reduced by 29%.

    Aside from the impact on bone health, there was a slightly increased risk of kidney stones and there was no reduction in colon cancer as had been shown in previous studies.

    What should you do? As in almost all studies, significant points were brought into question from the study. Most importantly, the study did not account for dietary intake of calcium and from other sources. This may have affected the study results.

    In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be any changes in any recommendations regarding calcium intake. Calcium and vitamin D are important parts of maintaining strong bones and the guidelines for a postmenopausal female of a daily intake for 1,500 milligrams of elemental calcium and 400 international units of vitamin D from diet and supplements should be continued. One should discuss with their doctor whether this is the appropriate amount that they should maintain because this can be influenced by different underlying medical conditions.

    It is important to note that this study may show the limitations of effect of calcium and vitamin D on healthy bones. It is important that if one has diagnosed osteoporosis, they may need treatment with appropriate medication. Calcium and vitamin D intake is necessary for these medications to have ample effect.


Published On: October 16, 2006