AUCKLAND – Millions of people who take vitamin D and calcium pills to prevent bone thinning may be wasting their time as they may even cause harm through kidney complications and strokes.
Researchers say the benefits of the pills may have been hugely exaggerated by their manufacturers. Around a third of men and just under half of women take supplements including vitamin D and calcium.
The pills are thought to prevent osteoporosis, the bone-thinning condition that occurs in middle age which is particularly common in women after the menopause.
Calcium is a naturally occurring mineral which helps strengthen the bones while vitamin D is thought to help the body absorb it. But several major studies published in the last decade have found no evidence that adults taking these pills are any less likely to suffer bone fractures.
Researchers say most get enough calcium in their diets anyway, mainly from dairy products, while vitamin D may not actually help our bodies absorb it.
In an editorial in the BMJ Open online journal, academics from New Zealand also highlight evidence that supplements increase the risk of strokes, kidney stones and heart attacks.
According to the Professor Andrew Grey and Professor Mark Bolland, of the Department of Medicine in the University of Auckland, such supplements ‘do not reduce the risk of fracture and may result in harm’.
The main source of vitamin D is a chemical reaction which occurs when the sun’s rays are absorbed by our skin although small amounts are found in eggs, oily fish and some breakfast cereals.
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