In 2013 sales of calcium supplements were $6 billion. In 2012, vitamin D supplement sales in the United States reached $748 million. For over a decade, these supplements have been proscribed to treat osteoporosis in older individuals. More recently however, studies have appeared that dispute the assumption that calcium and vitamin D supplements reduce the risk of osteoporosis after age 30. Further, some studies indicate that calcium and vitamin D supplements are associated with higher risk of complications.1
Bone density does not typically increase after a person reaches age 30. Even so, many experts have recommended calcium and vitamin D supplements for the maintenance of bone health (including density) in older individuals.2 Unfortunately some studies have associated calcium and vitamin D supplements with gastrointestinal issues, kidney stones, and cardiovascular problems. For some people, this “cure” may be worse than the disease.
Complicating matters further is the fact that more than half of osteoporosis organizations’ sponsors have been active in the nutrition industry.3 Both major osteoporosis non-profits advocate consuming calcium primarily through one’s food source before resorting to supplements however. The IOF asserted that its reliance on corporate sponsorship was simply a byproduct of a lack of government funding.
On the other end of the spectrum, calcium supplements may offer athletes a substantial method for reducing exercise-related bone loss. According to researched demonstrated at the Endocrine society in 2013, calcium supplements may offset some exercise-related bone loss. This study of men aged 18 to 45 indicated less bone loss during exercise when a calcium supplement was ingested.4
A balanced diet is certainly an important component of one’s health. These supplements may have demonstrated limited effectiveness in some test subjects simply because diets are typically adequate. Alternatively, the supplements may be more beneficial in athletes who frequently deplete their calcium levels. Regardless, studies continue to mount suggesting a limited effectiveness of calcium and vitamin D supplements in older people. Consider taking supplements based upon your specific situation.