Older women shouldn't bother taking low doses of calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent broken bones, a government advisory group said Monday.
Both nutrients are crucial for healthy bones, and specialists advise getting as much as possible from a good diet. The body also makes vitamin D from sunshine. If an older person has a vitamin deficiency or bone-thinning osteoporosis, doctors often prescribe higher-than-normal doses.
But for otherwise healthy postmenopausal women, adding modest supplements to their diet — about 400 international units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium — doesn't prevent broken bones, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday.
It's unclear, the task force said, whether higher doses of vitamin D and calcium are effective in preventing fractures in postmenopausal women, younger women or men.
Dr. Sundeep Khosla, a past president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, said the recommendations aren't for everyone.
“If you've already had a fracture or already had osteoporosis based on bone density, these don't apply to you,” said Khosla, an endocrinologist and a scientist at the Mayo Clinic who wasn't part of the task force.
Calcium and vitamin D work together, and people need a lifetime of both to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is also being studied for possibly preventing cancer and certain other diseases, something that Monday's guidelines don't address.
Dr. Robert Heaney, a longtime physician, researcher and professor at the Creighton University School of Medicine, said the task force looked at the nutrients as if they were drugs, where the burden of proof is to show that they are better than nothing.
Instead, he said, researchers should look at our ancestors' levels of vitamin D and calcium and then show that any levels lower than those are safe.
The average person's vitamin D levels and calcium intake are about a third of what people had under primitive conditions, Heaney said. “Why would you want to court danger by proposing that we don't need anywhere near what our ancestors got?” he asked.
The Institute of Medicine's 2011 recommended dietary allowances for calcium call for the average adult to get about 1,000 mg of calcium (1,200 mg for women 51 and older) every day. Khosla said the best way to get that is through low-fat dairy products and other foods.
For vitamin D, the institute says, the goal is 600 IUs every day (800 IUs for people older than 70).
Heaney said he takes 3,000 IUs of vitamin D per day but doesn't take calcium supplements because he consumes three or four servings a day of dairy products.
“I strongly recommend food sources,” he said. “Supplements are not a substitute for food.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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