We’re wasting our money on these supplements, review finds

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Thirty per cent of adult Australians have a vitamin D deficiency, according to Osteoporosis Australia, placing them at risk of bone and joint pain and a heightened risk of falls and bone fractures.

As a result, more than 40 per cent of Australian adults, the majority of them women and the elderly, regularly take supplements, feeding a multibillion-dollar industry.

However, a review published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week has found there is insufficient evidence to support taking these supplements in any form, and that they may actually increase the risk of “adverse health outcomes”.

“The major trials in community-dwelling individuals have not demonstrated fracture prevention with either calcium, vitamin D or their combination,” said the authors, Professor Ian Reid and Associate Professor Mark Bolland, from the University of Auckland.

“Calcium supplements in healthy individuals are not needed, nor are they required in most people receiving treatment for osteoporosis.”

The authors warned that calcium supplements could cause constipation, bloating and kidney stones, and could increase the risk of myocardial infarction.

They said we should focus on obtaining these nutrients naturally.

“Why calcium supplements act differently to calcium-rich foods is not really known,” said practising dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan. “But it is likely that the food matrix and delivery of the calcium may be key.”

Calcium is essential for healthy bones, muscles and organs. It’s found in dairy foods, salmon and sardines, broccoli, bok choy, silverbeet, cucumber, celery, chickpeas, almonds, dried figs and apricots.

Vitamin D also helps to build and maintain strong bones and assists with calcium absorption. It is made in the skin through exposure to the sun, although this mechanism is compromised in many older Australians. It is also found in fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel and salmon, and in liver, cheese and egg yolks.

“Their [calcium and vitamin D supplements] use as adjunctive therapy in osteoporosis has been the convention, but … there is little evidence that this alters outcomes,” said Prof. Reid and Assoc. Prof. Bolland.

But for otherwise healthy adults, they said such supplements were a waste of money and that we’re better off focusing on food, sunlight and exercise.

“Supplements have value in overtly deficient individuals, but not across the healthy older population. Based on the consistency of the data, we believe that a recommendation not to provide supplements routinely to healthy older individuals can be judged to be evidence-based … and no longer a matter of controversy,” they wrote.

“In summary, small doses of vitamin D have a place in the prevention of osteomalacia in individuals with specific risk factors. Calcium supplements have very little place in contemporary medical practice.”

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) says that while calcium and vitamin D supplements have been widely used in an attempt to prevent bone loss and prevent fractures in postmenopausal women and older men, evidence indicates that the absolute benefit is low “and considerably less than that seen with licensed osteoporosis treatments”.

It says: “The target calcium intake from dietary sources and supplements should be 1000mg per day for adults, rising to 1300mg per day for women older than 50 years of age and men older than 70 years of age.

“Vitamin D from sunlight exposure (avoiding periods of high ultraviolet-radiation intensity such as in the middle of the day) and supplements should ensure 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH D) levels >50 nmol/L. If vitamin D supplements are required, a dose of 800–1000 IU per day is usually sufficient, although higher doses are needed in some people to achieve target levels. Dietary calcium intake is often suboptimal in the elderly, especially institutionalised individuals.”

Have you been regularly taking vitamin D and calcium supplements? Will you now check with your doctor as to whether you should still take these products?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Janelle Ward


Total Comments: 37
  1. 0

    i was low on vit d as i cant get to much sunllight due to medications yet what i was getting my skin wasnt absorbing, so im on vit d and up came my vit d levels are stable. calcium the same i eat vegies etc but doesnt work. calD and im ok

    • 0

      I have a similar issue and because I have a hiatus hernia after having GERD for a few years I have trouble digesting some of the fruit and vegetables that contain Calcium or Vitamin D. Also some medication I had to take for a few years before they found a good alternative was provided to leech vitamins and minerals from bones…..and teeth. I had thin bones which through taking the Calcium and Vitamin D have not deteriorated as fast as they were. I also rarely suffer lower back pain too. My Calcium and Vitamin D were prescribed – not just bought off a shelf at random like so many people do.

    • 0

      I have a similar issue and because I have a hiatus hernia after having GERD for a few years I have trouble digesting some of the fruit and vegetables that contain Calcium or Vitamin D. Also some medication I had to take for a few years before they found a good alternative was provided to leech vitamins and minerals from bones…..and teeth. I had thin bones which through taking the Calcium and Vitamin D have not deteriorated as fast as they were. I also rarely suffer lower back pain too. My Calcium and Vitamin D were prescribed – not just bought off a shelf at random like so many people do.

  2. 0

    So why did my doctor tell me to take Vit D pills.

  3. 0

    What’s missing in this article is the danger of taking osteoporosis treatments such as Fosemax and Prolia:
    Side effects of Prolia
    low calcium levels (especially if you have kidney problems),
    back pain,
    muscle pain,
    pain in your arms and legs,
    diarrhea, or
    skin problems (eczema, blisters, dry skin, peeling, redness, itching, small bumps).

    You may also be more likely to get a serious infection, such as a skin, ear, stomach/gut, or bladder infection while taking Prolia.

    Side effects of Fosemax:
    Esophagus problems: Fosamax can cause irritation, inflammation, or ulcers of the esophagus which may sometimes bleed.

    If you get chest pain, new or worsening heartburn, or have trouble or pain when you swallow, immediately stop taking Fosamax and call your doctor.

    Low calcium levels in your blood (hypocalcemia): Since Fosamax can cause low calcium levels, if you have low blood calcium before you start taking Fosamax, it may get worse during treatment and must be treated before you take Fosamax.

    Symptoms of low blood calcium include, spasms; twitches or cramps in your muscles; and numbness or tingling in your fingers, toes, or around your mouth.
    Bone, joint, or muscle pain: Fosamax can cause severe bone, joint, or muscle pain.

    Severe jaw bone problems (osteonecrosis): Before taking Fosamax, your doctor, and possibly dentist, will examine your mouth.

    Fosamax can cause jawbone tissue to break down, exposing the bone and possibly leading to infections, gum lesions and loosened teeth.

    Unusual thigh bone fractures: Fosamax can cause fractures in thigh bones. Symptoms of a fracture may include new or unusual pain in your hip, groin, or thigh.

    Note that the very thing Fosemax is suppose to prevent, namely bone fractures, can actually cause a fracture of the femur!!

    • 0

      My mother took Fosemax. She still broke a cervical vertebra and head of femur.
      A friend took Fosemax and got an oesophageal ulcer.

    • 0

      my wife was on Fosamax for years, then her femur snapped in two, breaking like the stem of a wine glass, a typical Fosamax fracture we are told and they say these medications are good for you??

  4. 0

    My cousin took Fosemax and broke her femur some years ago.

    Also makes you wonder what other supplements are unnecessary. I take some and cut them out if they make no difference to my osteo arthritis. Besides they are very expensive. A visit to the chemist every fortnight leaves my purse a lot lighter. So I have decided to cut them altogether. The cost of living is expensive enough.

  5. 0

    I avoid taking calcium they are dangerous and even though have thought about taking Vitamin D during winter, I started eating mushrooms again. I do believe that the tests are often not accurate, I have heard of men working outdoors all day still showing low vitamin D. We never worried about these thing in the past and unless you have signs of Vitamin D deficiency like rickets than why worry. Save your money and eat more wholefoods,fresh food and not dead processed junk.

    • 0

      Expose your mushrooms to sunlight (e.g. on a windowsil) for 20 mins before eating and they increase in Vitamin D.

      Working outside all day can easily result in low vitamin D levels especially when proper use of sunscreen is employed or the arms, legs and torso are covered.

    • 0

      Thanks for the reminder about the mushrooms, I did read that somewhere. And true the workers often do cover themselves up, I also heard many surfers who are out in summer without wetsuits still show up with low D, maybe they are not absorbing it.

    • 0

      You don’t absorb vitamin D from the sun. The sun promotes the synthesis of cholesterol to vitamin D in the body.
      Surfers are covered up mostly and wear sunscreen hence the low vitamin D. By blocking the sun’s UVB, it prevents that conversion.

  6. 0

    The supplement industry found a great way to help people to get rid of their money. People get rid of their money, the industry gets rid of their toxic chemicals.

  7. 0

    Well here’s the real truth, dairy actually leaches calcium and minerals from your bones and causes osteoarthritis and all other arthritis. Its actually eating processed food that is the issue and is the cause of most of our illnesses. You only have to a google search on what dairy and meats do to your body!

  8. 0

    My doctor recommends that I take calcium and vit. D supplements.

  9. 0

    The imortant thing is that the calcium balance in the blood must be OK, – this is done by the hypothalamus, but it needs enough Borax in your diet or supplements. Borax defficiency is widespread, due to damage to the underground biology from artificial fertilisers etc.
    Borax is a trace element, you don’t need much, 5mg/day, and when the balance in your bloodstream is fine you will either gain calcium, as required in Osteoporosis, or lose Calcium as in more common Arthritus.
    You have to take it every day, but every day your body will heal, – gradually the balance will remove or apply the calcium to what it should be.
    I find each day is better, maybe a little bit or big, but each day is better. !

  10. 0

    This is a very confused article, with Vit D mentioned frequently as part of the supposed “waste of money” while all the criticism is about Calcium in the article. It has been known for decades that Calcium supplements can lead to kidney stones, so what’s new! It has always been recommended that IF you need Calcium supplements (per doctor’s advice) then plenty of water needs to be consumed.

    On the other hand, Vit D is very useful on it’s own for helping calcium absorption to help maintain strong bones (besides other benefits) as you get older, however to avoid calcium depositing on the arteries, etc, it is recommended to have Vit K2 as well with Vit D to direct calcium to the bones. The latter information is also missing from this highly biased and limited article.Hopefully this article will not stop anyone from using Vit D.

    • 0

      Yes George
      My husband and I are on Vit D3 plus Vit K2 together in the morning and Magnesium at night after dinner – we don’t have calcium we have a 300ml glass of homemade Iced Coffee with the Magnesium. These supplements work together – my husband has Parkinson and was depressed – nether of us are depressed – quiet the opposite we feel great and the cramps he gets with Parkinsons have reduced.
      We also take Mega B Complex – we were both low in Vit D and now our levels are back up where they should be and our interest and motivation is back and my husbands colour is normal and healthy again!
      I am always concerned when I see articles that do not say it is Vit D3 that you must take with Vit K2 and Magnesium as they work together to keep calcium out of your arteries and into your bones. I know people whom their Dr has put them on the wrong Vit D – I do wish they would be more aware and it wouldn’t surprise me if that is why people get into trouble!

    • 0

      Spot on, Bridgit. Somehow most GPs don’t want to educate people or don’t care for supplements anyway.

    • 0

      Most doctors have very little education in nutrition, only diagnosis and prescribing pharmaceuticals.
      I also think supplements depend on quality, brand and type and whether you actually absorb it or it goes straight through, some people’s digestion does not work well enough so there can be other issues at play.

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