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Vitamin D, Calcium for Elderly Questioned

Studies Show No Bone Fracture Prevention From Vitamin D/Calcium in High-Risk Seniors
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Modest but Important Vitamin D, Calcium Effects Missed?

What should seniors make of these new findings? Not too much, argues Philip Sambrook of the Institute of Bone & Joint Research in Sydney, Australia, in a Lancet editorial accompanying the Grant study.

Sambrook notes that more than a third of the participants in the Grant study did not take their calcium/vitamin D supplements as they were supposed to.

"Overall, the data are still consistent with a therapeutic benefit of vitamin D on fractures in people deficient in vitamin D," Sambrook writes.

He also says since vitamin D levels were not assessed at the start of the study it is not clear what effects might be expected in vitamin D-replete people.

Supplements Have Their Place

Perhaps a more important criticism of the studies comes from John Hathcock, PhD. Hathcock is vice president for scientific and international affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a group that represents the supplement industry.

Hathcock says that vitamin D and calcium by themselves are not a total insurance policy against fractures in the elderly. Earlier studies, he points out, show the reduction in fractures to be in the 30% to 40% range. The Torgerson study did not have enough participants to detect a reduction in fractures of less than 30%. And Hathcock says the Grant study, too, could easily have missed such an effect.

"These studies do not exclude modest but important benefits for vitamin D and calcium supplements," Hathcock tells WebMD. "This should not suggest that anybody stop taking calcium and vitamin D supplements."

Grant says elderly people at risk of fracture should be taking medications that build new bone mass. Such patients, he says, also need supplements.

"People who are taking very bone-active drugs, like bisphosphonates, are encouraged to take vitamin D and calcium at the same time," he says. "Those who now are just taking vitamin D and calcium should consider -- with their doctors -- whether they would benefit from bone-active medications."

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