Extra Vitamins Don't Always Fill the Void

Vitamin D3 and calcium supplements ineffective in fracture prevention among postmenopausal women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Weaker bones that come with menopause might spur some women to load up on calcium and vitamin D. But supplements might not be enough to protect bones and prevent fractures.

Daily supplements that have less than 400 IU of vitamin D3 or less than 1,000 milligrams of calcium do not prevent fractures in postmenopausal women, according to a release from the US Preventive Services Task Force.

"Be mindful of vitamin supplements."

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the body and is available in two forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is the more potent version of the vitamin. Vitamin D3 is present in very few foods but can be produced by the body through exposure to sunlight.

The US Preventive Services Task Force looked at previous studies that tested vitamin D3 and calcium supplements in preventing bone fractures in over 36,000 healthy postmenopausal women.

The task force is an independent review panel consisting of volunteer prevention and primary care experts in the private sector. They assess preventative screenings, medications and counseling services across the US.

The panel stated that there is insufficient evidence to recommend increases in vitamin D3 and calcium consumption through daily supplements to prevent bone fractures.

The lack of evidence applies to both postmenopausal women and men, according to the panel. Half of all postmenopausal women will have a fracture related to osteoporosis at some point during their lifetime.

“Vitamin D and calcium are known to play an important role in maintaining health, including bone health," said task force member and chair Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH, in a press release.

"However, despite the large number of studies done, there are few conclusive answers about the ability of vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent fractures.”

The panel's findings applied to people who are not deficient in vitamin D or have osteoporosis, according to task force member Jessica Herzstein, MD, MPH.

“Vitamin D plays a role in a wide range of general health functions, and there appears to be minimal harms in taking vitamin D supplements," she said in a press release.

"Clinicians and patients may take this into consideration when determining whether to recommend or take vitamin D for general health,” she said.

In a separate recommendation, the task force previously stated that vitamin D helped prevent falls in adults over the age of 65.

The task force is supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 7, 2013
Last Updated:
March 9, 2013