In a new study, researchers found that taking calcium and vitamin D together may help older adults curb the risk of a bone fracture, but vitamin D alone cannot provide the benefits.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Oxford and elsewhere.
In the United States, about 54 million people have low bone mass or outright osteoporosis—the brittle-bone disease that can lead to fractures.
It’s estimated that after age 50, half of women and one-quarter of men will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Calcium is critical to building and maintaining strong bones, while vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and supports the muscle function needed to avoid falls.
In the study, the team reviewed 28 past studies and found that older adults with higher blood levels of vitamin D were less likely to suffer a broken hip or other fracture over five to 15 years.
When they focused on studies that actually tested the effects of using vitamin D supplements, they found no evidence that vitamin D alone reduced older adults’ risk of fractures.
In contrast, studies that tested a combination of calcium and vitamin D showed modest protective effects.
The findings show that combined treatment with both calcium and vitamin D reduced the risk of hip fracture by one-sixth, and was more beneficial than taking standard doses of vitamin D alone.
The team says that the expectation that vitamin D and calcium, alone, will prevent fractures is probably unrealistic.
To help preserve bone mass and keep muscles strong, people need regular exercise.
An exercise that makes the body move against gravity while staying upright—like jogging, jumping rope or dancing—can help maintain bone density.
And exercise that builds muscle strength or improves balance can help lower the risk of falls.
Avoiding smoking and excessive drinking is also critical to preventing bone loss.
The findings are not the final word on vitamin D and fractures. Some ongoing studies are testing high-dose vitamin D in people who are at increased risk of bone breaks.
One author of the study is Dr. Robert Clarke, a professor of epidemiology and public health medicine.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.
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