Reporting on a large review study, this Los Angeles Times article walks readers through the conflicting advice and evidence about calcium and vitamin D supplements. Both compounds play roles in bone health and the routinely accepted claim is that supplementation can help prevent bone breaks in older people. This new meta-analysis shows that claim is not supported by evidence: not for calcium pills, vitamin D pills, or the two in combination.
The story is well-done on several points, particularly on explaining how this study worked and what it found. The story would have been stronger if it had included some commentary from experts in the field who were not associated with the study to help put this recent, apparently strong finding, into context for readers.
More than two million so-called fragility fractures — breaks that wouldn’t happen in a younger person, often related to the bone loss of osteoporosis–occur every year in the US. Preventing fragility means attending to bone health, which currently centers around exercise and getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Supplementation is an easy way to make sure a person takes in enough of the mineral and the vitamin, and yet, it’s important to understand whether routine supplementation actually prevents bone breaks.
Given that the premise of the story is explaining there is no benefit to taking these supplements, we’ll rate this N/A. That said, it would have been interesting to explore the cost-savings for people if they decide to stop buying calcium and vitamin D.
The story does a good job of letting readers know that there was no statistically significant benefit to taking calcium and vitamin D, based on the researchers’ systematic review of the evidence.
The story cited one instance of harms, saying: “… for people who started out with at least 20 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood, adding more vitamin D through supplements was associated with a greater risk of hip fractures.”
We also wanted to see a mention of potential harms of calcium, such as kidney stones. Another common side effect is excess gas and one potential harm of high doses is cardiovascular complications such as heart attack.
The story hits some key points including the number of studies reviewed, potential confounding factors accounted for, and details about selection criteria. For instance, women on hormone replacement therapy, for whom there’s evidence for the benefits of supplementation were excluded from the current analysis. That’s a key point for postmenopausal women reading the story.
Also the story makes clear that this study examined older adults who live in their own homes and therefore does not apply to older adults who live in nursing homes or similar institutions. Well done.
The story does not engage in disease-mongering. It correctly states the risk of broken bones in people over age 50 and the risk of death in older people who break a hip. This story will also help reduce over-treatment and over-medicating of older adults, which is common.
The only source quoted for the article is the study itself. There are no quotes from independent expert sources.
The story references getting calcium from one’s diet and getting vitamin D from sun exposure.
We think it’s safe to presume that readers know that vitamin and mineral supplements are widely available.
The story does a good job of making clear previous claims of benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplementation. This large meta-analysis will provide some clarity of the questions surrounding using these supplements for bone health.
The story does not appear to rely on a news release.