Calcium and Vitamin D — No Longer the Darlings of Women's Health
What's a health conscious girl to do? Once the darlings of women's health, calcium and vitamin D are suddenly on the outs. It seemed a near universal truth that both pre and post-menopausal women could reduce their risk of osteoporosis by taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Stronger, healthier bones the result of taking inexpensive supplements, right? Maybe not.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, in a draft recommendation released this week, advised that daily supplementation with 400 I.U. of vitamin D and 1000 mg calcium showed no effect in the reduction of osteoporotic fractures in post-menopausal women. The task force therefore recommends that post-menopausal women do not take vitamin D and calcium supplements at the aforementioned doses. There was insufficient evidence to determine whether supplementation with higher doses of vitamin D had any effect on reducing the incident of osteoporosis fractures.
Why are these recommendations important? Nearly half of all women over the age of 50 will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis. Fractures in older women often result in increased morbidity and mortality. Hip fractures are an especially egregious type of health event. Women who break a hip have double the mortality rate in the year following the fracture.
The panel stopped short of discouraging women from taking vitamin D supplements. The so-called "sunshine vitamin" is not only important for bone health, it also is responsible for the maintenance of many organ systems in the body, and helps to maintain a healthy immune system. Deficiencies in vitamin D are thought to be associated with a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
The news on calcium supplements is considerably less rosy. A 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that women who took calcium supplements have a higher risk of clotting abnormalities and heart attack.
So back to the original question, what's a health-conscious girl to do? How best to minimize your risk of developing osteoporosis? The answers seem unclear, but point back to healthy lifestyle choices. Eating a balanced diet, getting adequate (but not excessive) vitamin D by exposure to sunlight and regular exercise appear to contribute to overall bone health.
Image courtesy of green kozi