Industry Criticizes New Study Challenging Benefits of Calcium and Vitamin D


A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association is challenging the accepted knowledge that calcium and vitamin D supplements are important for supporting bone health. Conducted by Jia-Guo Zhao, MD of Tianjin Hospital, Tianjin, China, the meta-analysis of 33 randomized clinical trials that included 51,145 participants living in the general community, not nursing homes or hospitals, determined that “the use of supplements that included calcium, vitamin D, or both was not associated with a significant difference in the risk of hip fractures compared with placebo or no treatment.”

Industry trade groups and medical professionals were quick to criticize the study and defend the use of calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of fracture as people age. One criticism is the fact that calcium and vitamin D are short-fall nutrients in the American population. “Generalized recommendations relying on this study should be mindful that further reductions in calcium and vitamin D consumption may exacerbate these public health concerns,” said Andrea Wong, Ph.D., vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, of the Council for Responsible Nutrition in an official statement. Indeed, Wong points out, the researchers even acknowledged that the trials included in the analysis did not all test baseline vitamin D blood levels in test subjects, therefore unable to verify whether they were deficient or not in the first place.

They also take issue with the broad generalization that supplementation with these nutrients helps no one considering that the analysis focused on a healthy segment of the population. U.S. News and World Report quotes orthopedic surgeon,  Daniel Smith, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY saying, “The big picture, which seems to be lost in this study, is that the personal health cost of a hip fracture can be catastrophic. The potential benefit of calcium and vitamin D supplementation in preventing even a small number of hip fractures far outweighs the otherwise minimum risks associated with routine calcium and vitamin D supplementation in at-risk populations.”

Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Natural Products Association expresses the same concern in an official statement. “This study draws its conclusions with too broad of a brush, and has many flaws as it only focused on the healthiest segment of the population, which are those living at home,” he explains. “It likely includes many people who may be getting — and benefitting — from calcium and vitamin D from their diet or other sources. And people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities were not part of it, which means there is a lot missing. People with prior bone breaks or family incidence of osteoporosis may still need vitamin D and calcium supplementation, or other nutrition.”

This is not the first time supplementation has been challenged, nor will it be the last. Indeed, we need new and varied research to further our knowledge, but one study flawed in its execution will not prevent medical practitioners from making recommendations they have been comfortable making for years, nor should you let it dissuade customers from purchasing calcium and vitamin D products in your stores.


  1. Hold on a minute. The researchers were correct in their assessment of the results, but not correct in the blanket statement that calcium and vitamin D don’t help. Calcium is necessary for bone health, but very little is needed. Calcium supplements have never been shown to be effective in reducing fracture risk. Worldwide, the countries who have the highest risk of hip fractures also have by far the highest consumption of calcium. And as far as vitamin D is concerned, the amount of vitamin D used in the studies you are discussing is pitifully low. 800-1000 IU is almost nothing, considering that 20 minutes of full-body sun exposure at noon will produce up to 20,000 IU. The reason that the studies failed to show a positive result is that the quantities of vitamin D were horribly inadequate, and they were not produced by sun exposure.

    The studies on sun exposure have dramatically different results than those you discussed. For example, a Spanish study has demonstrated that women who were sun seekers had only 1/11 the risk of fracture compared to women who shunned the sun.

    So, embrace the sun without burning and get your calcium from vegetables. You really need only a modicum of calcium for good bone health, but you do need a load of vitamin D from the sun. Nature knows best!

    For more information: Sunlight Institute website:

  2. The calcium content of the bone is only important in the type of bone that is under compression such as in the vertebrae and central pelvis. In bones which require flexural strength, the bone matrix is most important and calcium is only incidental. In order to create the hydroxyapatite complex magnesium is of greater value but only indirectly. The value of magnesium is in its ability to generate the osteoblastic/bone building cells. Even in a deficiency of calcium, osteoblasts will become structural components of the bone matrix.


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