Vitamin D, Calcium for Elderly Questioned
Studies Show No Bone Fracture Prevention From Vitamin D/Calcium in High-Risk Seniors
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
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
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
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