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Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements Very Beneficial For Many Women over the Age of 60 - Helps Prevent Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures

February 15th 2006

Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements Very Beneficial For Many Women over the Age of 60 - Helps Prevent Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures

Rebecca Jackson

Calcium and vitamin-D supplements play an important role in preventing bone fractures in older women, according to study published in the February 16th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  Researchers say, in older women, “consistent use of calcium and vitamin-D supplements will play a role in reducing her risk for osteoporosis”.

Up until now the results have been conflicting.  Based on the data provided by the Women’s Health Initiative, lead author Rebecca Jackson, associate professor of internal medicine and physical medicine at Ohio State University Medical Center, said “The value of a study this large is that it does show, even if only on a small scale, that the intervention can be effective to lower the risk of osteoporosis within two to three years…. A physician isn't needed to prescribe these supplements. All this means any supplementation of this kind is potentially beneficial, particularly in women over 60 years old. That's a huge finding."


There were 36,282 participants in this part of the WHI study.  Of these, half were given a daily dose of 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate combined with 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D.  The other half were given a placebo.  These women were followed for an average of 7 years, with about 76% of the women still taking the pills by the end of the study. 

The researchers found that a small, “but significant” number of women improved their hip bone density by 1% by combining vitamin D with calcium supplements.  There was a slight difference in fracture rates between women on supplements and women that did not take them. “During the trial, 374 women who received supplements broke their hips, with a fracture rate of 14 per 10,000 cases per year, compared to 16 per 10,000 fractures per year in the placebo group – a 12 percent reduction, which was not statistically significant.”


But here is the important finding.  Analyses of the subgroups of participants found that women who were most compliant about taking the supplements experienced a significant 29% decrease in hip fractures.  Women over the age of 60 saw a 21% reduction in broken hips, compared to the placebo.

The most common adverse side effect of the supplements was the formation of kidney stones.  There were 449 women in the supplement group who developed the stones, while only 381 women in the placebo group did.

Jackson said, "This all really points to the ability of women at highest risk for osteoporosis to make their own informed choices about supplements they take."  There are about 44 million Americans that either have or are at risk for osteoporosis, which contributes to about 300,000 broken hips in the United States each year.

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