By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen headlines on the head scratching report by the US Preventive Services Task Force that has proclaimed that postmenopausal women do not need to supplement with vitamin D and calcium. USA Today was one of many outlets to cover the report in their story, “Panel to postmenopausal women: Don’t take Vitamin D, calcium.”
The Task Force has stated that there is insufficient evidence that vitamin D and calcium reduce risk of fractures and cancer, and therefore, postmenopausal women do not need to take these supplements. In fact, one of the researchers on the panel, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, has publicly gone on record to say, “Vitamin D remains an essential part of a healthy diet.”
Yikes! Yet another expert that thinks vitamin D comes from diet. We’ll try not to let this statement blemish the merits of the rest of the report.
Without getting into an exhaustive debate at where the research stands to date, I think the panel is missing the most important question at hand: mortality. Regardless of whether research has consistently shown that vitamin D and calcium reduce risk of fractures and cancer, how does it fare with broad-spectrum mortality?
Recently, a team of researchers from all over the world led by Professor Lars Rejnmark performed a meta-analysis on over 70,000 participants that partook in vitamin D and calcium randomized controlled trials. They wanted to know this exact question: what is vitamin D and calcium supplementation’s effect on mortality?
They yielded data from 70,528 participants from 24 randomized controlled trials who were taking vitamin D and calcium, vitamin D alone, or placebo. Most of the studies were originally drawn up to assess effects on frailty and bone health in community-dwelling elderly.
In the vitamin D and calcium groups, many of the groups took between 400-800 IU of vitamin D and around 1000-1200 mg of calcium. In all the trials that they analyzed, they followed the participants for 36 months.
What did they find? That calcium and vitamin D supplementation reduced mortality by 7% in the three year period compared to those that took placebo! The authors concluded,
“Calcium with vitamin D supplementation to elderly participants is overall not harmful to survival, and may have beneficial effects on general health.”
Needless to say, we feel once again a large governmental health agency got it wrong. While the US Preventive Services Task Force wants to push that postmenopausal women shouldn’t take calcium and vitamin D simply because we need more research, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (the best standard in research) has found that it reduces mortality. Is that not sufficient evidence that vitamin D and calcium supplementation may be a good idea? At this point in vitamin D research, it seems many expert panels are more interested in boasting their scientific prowess than offering sound public advice.
Let the record state that with research to date, calcium and vitamin D supplementation reduces mortality in postmenopausal women and if care is taken in supplementing, it is likely a good idea.
Note: the Vitamin D Council does not have a calcium supplementation recommendation. Vitamin D intake at our recommendation (5,000 IU/day except when sunbathing) may reduce calcium requirements.