In February, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) overturned decades of routine medical practice when it released a new recommendation that postmenopausal women do not take low daily doses of calcium to prevent bone fractures. This may come as a shock to many older adults: the USPSTF says that more than half of women over 60 in the U.S. take various doses of these supplements.
The USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts that makes recommendations based on extensive reviews of more than 100 studies. The group concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to show that low doses, defined as 400 international units or less of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams or less of calcium, work to prevent bone fractures. However, there is a good evidence that taking these doses could increase the risk of kidney stones, says the task force.
Much of the evidence for this conclusion came from a Women’s Health Initiative study of more than 36,000 postmenopausal women. The study randomly assigned participants to low-dose oral supplements, and found that participants did not have significantly fewer fractures than those taking placebos. Smaller studies have also come to this conclusion.
The new set of recommendations may be confusing to older adults trying to decide if they should take supplements. At this point, the USPSTF is standing by an earlier recommendation that “community-dwelling” adults age 65 or over who are at an increased risk for falls do take vitamin D supplements. Furthermore, the USPSTF is not taking a position on the ability of higher doses to prevent fractures, saying that there is not yet enough evidence to draw a conclusion. They also found that there is not enough evidence to draw a conclusion about vitamin D supplements for cancer prevention in adults. It’s also important to note that the new recommendations do not apply to people with osteoporosis or vitamin D deficiencies, according to the USPSTF.
Since the recommendations vary depending on a person’s individual circumstances, the best way to find out if supplements are right for you is to talk to your doctor. To read more about the new recommendations, click here.