U.S. Task Force Advises Against Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements

Washington, D.C.—It is well known that calcium and vitamin D are essential to bone health, with more than 1,000 published studies confirming this effect. So, it came as a surprise in late February when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advised postmenopausal women against the use of calcium (1,000 mg) and vitamin D (400 IU) supplements to prevent fractures.

The USPSTF said that the bones did not benefit from exposure to these supplements. Their recommendation was based on the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a randomized controlled trial of calcium and vitamin D supplementations. Though the results of that study did not yield significant benefit from calcium and vitamin D, it should be noted that many of the women involved were not adhering to a strict supplementation regime, thereby tainting the outcome. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, some women who participated in the study already received the amount of calcium and vitamin D recommended by the Institution of Medicine via diet, making it difficult to discern the supplements’ affects. Those who adhered to the protocol experienced a 38% reduction in hip fracture.

Even though the study was flawed, CRN is concerned about the potential implications of the USPSTF’s report. “These recommendations fail to recognize the well-established role of calcium and vitamin D in maintaining bone health,” said Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., senior director, scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN. If these recommendations are taken to heart, or misconstrued as general recommendations against calcium and vitamin D, consumers could be compromising their bone health and missing out on important other benefits from these nutrients. The bottom line: calcium and vitamin D are vital to staying healthy.”

The CRN was not the only organization to speak out against the USPSTF. Cara Welch, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Products Association, released a statement on the matter. “The Natural Products Association believes that dietary supplementation is both safe and effective for anyone who isn’t getting enough calcium and vitamin D from their diet. These nutrients have been shown to support bone health and it’s important that consumers get the recommended levels of both. If diet alone isn’t enough, then dietary supplements can help with getting these vital nutrients.”

Others feel that the recommendation has some ground for pointing out that vitamin D and calcium alone won’t prevent fractures. Rather, they need other key nutrients like magnesium. Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., said in a press statement that “adequate levels of magnesium in the body are essential for the absorption and metabolism of vitamin D and calcium.”

The USPSTF has a track record when it comes to making controversial claims regarding health. They previously advised women under 50 not to get mammograms or perform breast examinations. 


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2013 (online 2/28/13, updated 3/15/13)