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  • Writer's pictureJen Ottolino

Taking This Vitamin Probably Won’t Help You Avoid Bone Fractures

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Largest and longest study to date finds that vitamin D supplements don’t lower bone fracture risk in midlife and older adults.

Doctors recommend taking vitamin D supplements to prevent bone fractures, but is this advice outdated? A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that taking vitamin D3 supplements did not lower bone fracture risk in generally healthy midlife and older adults.

Vitamin D allows the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals critical for bone building. It also reduces inflammation, inhibits cancer cell growth, and helps control infections. It’s common for medical practitioners to advise patients to take vitamin D supplements to strengthen their bones, protect against fractures, and improve overall health.

Meanwhile, the data on whether vitamin D supplements prevent bone fractures is mixed. Some studies show that vitamin D supplements lower bone fracture risk, and others show no effect at all. Other studies have suggested that vitamin D supplements can even be harmful in certain doses. Experts agree that more studies are needed.

A recent large, randomized controlled trial examined bone fractures in VITAL study participants over approximately five years. The 25,871 participants­, who were generally healthy mid-life and older adults in the U.S., were given either a 2000 I.U. vitamin D3 supplement or a placebo each day. At the end of the study, those taking the vitamin D supplement did not have a lower risk of bone fractures compared to those taking placebo, according to researchers.

A limitation of the study is that it was not designed to evaluate supplement effectiveness in those with known vitamin D deficiencies, since giving a placebo — or a “fake” vitamin D supplement — to someone with a known deficiency would be unethical. A strength of the study, on the other hand, was its large and diverse group of participants, who were from all 50 states and 20% of whom were Black. CNN interviewed study author Dr. Meryl Leboff from the from the Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"This is the largest, longest, randomized controlled trial on vitamin D supplementation in the US," said Dr. Leboff.

The study is not the final word on vitamin D supplements. But it does strengthen the case against most people taking vitamin D supplements to lower bone fracture risk. As the jury deliberates, here are some proven and much less controversial ways to strengthen your bones.

Dr. Monique Tello, a practicing physician and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School offers the following advice on her popular health and wellness blog: “In the end, I am recommending what I always end up recommending: a Mediterranean-style diet rich in colorful plants, plenty of legumes, fish, plus low-sugar, low-fat dairy and plenty of varied physical activity throughout your entire life.”

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