Baby Boomers Wasting Money on Some Daily Supplements, Hints Study

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For many Baby Boomers, daily supplements are taken with as much religious regularity as taking Communion during Mass. Their daily supplement regimen is based more on belief (or faith, if you will) that the recommendations provided by health officials adorned in white coats and schooled in mysterious arcana will keep their temple in good working order as long as physically possible. Recently, however,—when it comes to some daily supplements—heresy is afoot as a recent draft of recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force tells the masses that they are misled in believing that low doses of vitamin D and calcium will protect them from fractures in their doddering years.

Bone health and the risk of fractures is a major health concern of primarily pre- and postmenopausal women. You cannot get through an ad-filled magazine or evening of nightly news without seeing an advertisement touting the osteoporosis-preventing benefits of some supplement or medication that shows healthy and happy women rock climbing or running a marathon.

According to the report, approximately 1.5 million osteoporotic fractures occur in the United States every year and that approximately 50% of all women older than age 50 years will have an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime. Not only does a fracture decrease quality of life, but it can also significantly shorten it as a person's mortality risk is 2.8 to 4 times higher than that of a person of similar age who has not suffered a serious hip fracture. Furthermore, nearly 20% of hip fracture patients wind up institutionalized in long-term care facilities.

For years, good bone health and fracture prevention have been directly associated with calcium and vitamin D. The two primary sources of vitamin D are Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), which is diet based from vegetables and fish; and, Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), which is synthesized within the skin by ultraviolet B rays from the sun.

However, when diet is poor and/or not enough sun exposure is received and/or hormonal changes affect bone chemistry, recommendations have been that supplements of vitamin D with calcium are both needed and necessary for good health. The biggest question and thereby the most controversial has been just exactly how much vitamin D and calcium should a person really take.

That question is the real message behind the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s conclusion that there is currently insufficient evidence for supporting daily low-dose vitamin D and calcium supplement recommendations. The Task Force lists their following opinions:

• The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of combined vitamin D and calcium supplementation for the primary prevention of fractures in premenopausal women or in men.

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• The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of the benefits and harms of daily supplementation with >400 IU of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of calcium for the primary prevention of fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women.

• The USPSTF recommends against daily supplementation with ≤400 IU of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of calcium carbonate for the primary prevention of fractures in noninstitutionalized postmenopausal women.

According to their website, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine and is composed of primary care providers whose mission is to conduct reviews of scientific evidence over a broad range of clinical preventive health care services and develop recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems.

The focus of the task force is to determine whether recommended procedures, treatments, preventative measures, etc. are—in the least—tipping the balance of doing more good than harm to patients and the public. When the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of the service, then they draft recommendations for public and professional review as they recently have concerning low doses of vitamin D and calcium. From their findings, the risk of developing kidney stones in a small percentage of the population that is taking supplemental vitamin D and calcium is tipping the balance more toward the harm side of the scale.

The important thing to remember and know is that their opinion is not the final word or a mandate for change; but rather, a call to the fact that what we think we know and believe about the benefits of taking vitamin D and calcium are not necessarily true and that the public needs to know this.

In fact, the task force points out that there are limitations to the extent of what they can adequately evaluate from the available data, and that additional research is really needed in assessing whether higher doses of vitamin D and calcium are beneficial--as is the prevalent belief among many in the public and within the health care system.

Are Baby Boomers wasting money on some daily supplements like vitamin D and calcium? For the most part when in relatively good health and better vitamin sources are available through diet and sunlight exposure, the answer is likely “yes.” However, as always, the best recommendation is to see your physician who knows more about your personal health needs.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement: “Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation to Prevent Cancer and Osteoporotic Fractures in Adults”

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