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Calcium Pills: Helping Women's Bones?

Study Shows Many Women Aren't Following Recommendations for Calcium Supplements

Diet and Exercise

Jacques Rossouw, MD, who is project director for the WHI trial, says it is clear that women -- especially older women -- benefit from getting adequate calcium. But he recommends making every effort to get the calcium from food sources, rather than supplements.

The WHI study found that taking calcium in pill form was associated with an increased risk of kidney stoneskidney stones. This association was not seen in the Australian study.

Rossouw and Siris agree that taking vitamin D in pill form is probably a good idea because it is almost impossible to get enough of the nutrient in foods. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.

While younger women may get what they need from 15 to 20 minutes of direct sun exposure two or three times a week, Siris says older women may not be able to produce enough vitamin D through safe sun exposure.

Vitamin D Recommendations

She recommends 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D a day but warns that most multivitamins don't contain the optimal form of the vitamin.

"Vitamin D is cheap, but it is hard to find," she says. "We are learning more and more about the importance of this vitamin, but you still might have to search for it."

The experts also agree that getting regular exercise is one of the most important things women can do to protect their bones. Weight-bearing exercise is especially important, but not for the reason most women think, Siris says.

"People believe that weight-bearing exercise builds bone, but this isn't true in a 75-year-old, or in a 50-year-old for that matter," she says. "What it does do is make people stronger and improve their balance and coordination so that they fall down less often. Falls are common among elderly people, and this is how fractures occur. So anything that reduces falls can reduce fractures."

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