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Women Over 50 Should Not Mix Vitamin D and Calcium, New Recommendation

Update Date: Feb 25, 2013 10:27 PM EST

Healthy postmenopausal women who want to ensure healthy bones by taking 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D and up to 1,000 milligrams of calcium might not actually be doing anything to help prevent broken bones, but may instead increase the risk of kidney stones, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday.

According to a statement published online Feb. 26 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors said there is no evidence that the supplements at that dose could prevent bone fractures. 

Using data from two reviews and a meta-analysis, Virginia A. Moye, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues on behalf of the USPSTF in Rockville, Md., examined the effects of vitamin D supplementation, with or without calcium, on bone health outcomes in community-dwelling adults. Adverse effects of supplementation were also considered.

"We know that vitamin D and calcium are essential to bone health," says task force member Jessica Herzstein, a public-health specialist who is global medical director at Air Products in Allentown, Pa.

The study showed that low-dose supplements don't prevent fractures in healthy older women, the task force says. Research also suggests that about one in 273 women taking the supplements will develop kidney stones. It's a small risk but worth considering, Herzstein says.

The  US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found that, regarding premenopausal women and men, the current evidence was insufficient to support an evaluation of the benefits and harms of combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation on the primary prevention of fractures, according to the report.

For non-institutionalized postmenopausal women, insufficient evidence was available to examine the balance of benefits and harms for supplementation with >400 IU of vitamin D3 and >1,000 mg of calcium for primary prevention of fractures. For non-institutionalized postmenopausal women, the USPSTF recommends against daily supplementation with ≤400 IU of vitamin D3 and ≤1,000 mg of calcium.

More than half of U.S. women over age 60 now take the supplements at various doses, according to the task force. Across the age groups, 20 percent of American adults take vitamin D supplements and 17 percent take calcium supplements, according to the 2012 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements by the Council on Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group. 

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