Mixed Health Messages on Calcium, Vitamin D, from USPSTF

Women have long been advised to take calcium supplements to help strengthen bones as we age. Vitiamin D supplements have also been a major topic of health reporting lately, with many recent studies touting its benefits for everything from minimizing cardiovascular risk to tooth loss. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now says that healthy men and pre menopausal women don’t need them. They also advise against supplements in low doses for post-menopausal women, citing lack of concrete evidence.

According to the organization, “current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation for the primary prevention of fractures in premenopausal women or in men…and recommends against daily supplementation with 400 IU or less of vitamin D3 and 1000 mg or less of calcium for the primary prevention of fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women.” However, they still say that vitamin D supplementation helps prevent falls in at-risk age 65+ community dwelling adults.

Falls are a real risk in older adults. They can lead to permanent disability, and exacerbate other chronic conditions.

So if you’re a 50-ish woman, what do you do?

Nothing. Don’t change a thing until you speak with your health provider.

Remember, these are recommendations, not protocols. If you’re at risk, such as having a family history of osteoporosis, or have a diet lacking in certain nutritents, it’s still a good idea to discuss supplements with your clinician. The only way to be sure whether you are getting adequate calcium or vitamin D is through screening. Supplement manufacturers want to swallow a daily pill; researchers say “not so fast.”

Don’t believe the hype one way or another, and don’t succumb to medicine by groupthink.

click on the graphic for a larger view of current USPSTF recommendations.