There’s a lot of debate currently happening about whether or not supplements play a beneficial role in preventing or treating osteoporosis. Some clinical trials suggest there is a benefit in taking supplements in terms of better bone health while others refute this claim and say that supplements have no beneficial effect whatsoever.
Let’s take a look at two recent trials and see if we can make some sense out of this whole debate.
First up is an analysis that set out to assess the benefits of calcium intake from diet and supplementation on bone health. The researchers confined their analysis to the femoral neck and lumbar vertebral bone. Nearly 1,400 men and women were recruited for the trial. All were between the ages of 50 – 70. The researchers tallied total calcium intake. They then looked for associations with hip and spine bone mineral density (BMD).
The research team found that total calcium intake ranged from 400 mg/d at the lowest to 2,100 mg/d at the highest. No significant differences were found in lumbar or hip BMD and total calcium consumption in participants aged 50 to 70. The researchers did note that femoral hip BMD did improve slightly with high calcium intake. This trend was reversed in women, however—those with high calcium intake showed a decrease in femoral hip BMD. The research team concluded that high calcium intake beyond the RDA for older men and women didn’t usher in any benefits in terms of bone mineral density in the hip or spine in comparison with those with low intakes of calcium.
In a second trial, a research team studied changes in calcium and vitamin D intakes, looking for any associations with BMD. This time 9,382 women and men were followed. The researchers found that calcium and vitamin D intakes increased over time in adults (though levels did decrease in a very specific group: women aged 16-18). These increased intakes were the result of taking vitamin D and calcium supplements.
The researchers found that over time, more adults were likely to start supplementing with vitamins and minerals. The average doses of calcium and vitamin D also increased over time.
At the outset of the study, higher intakes of calcium and vitamin D were associated with higher total hip and femoral neck BMD in young men. These researchers, contrary to the findings of the previous study, found that over the long-term, high levels of calcium and vitamin D intake contributed to better BMD maintenance in the spine and hips in adult women.
The research team concluded that total intakes of calcium and, in particular, vitamin D often fell below recommended guidelines despite an increase in supplement use over time. They noted they found some benefits between total calcium intake and bone health.
When deciding whether or not to supplement with calcium or vitamin D to maintain the health of your bones as you age, you may need to seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
Barton, A., “Why this woman is choosing food over supplements to deal with osteoporosis,” The Globe and Mail web site, Nov. 24, 2013; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/why-this-vancouver-woman-is-choosing-food-over-supplements-to-deal-with-osteoporosis/article15566845/, last accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
Zhou, W., et al., “Longitudinal changes in calcium and vitamin D intakes and relationship to bone mineral density in a prospective population-based study: the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos),” J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. December 2013; 13(4): 470-9.
Anderson, J.J., et al., “Calcium intakes and femoral and lumbar bone density of elderly U.S. men and women: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006 analysis,” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. December 2012 ; 97(12): 4,531-9.