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Supplement Efficacy in Question

Vitamin D supplements are in widespread use in the fight against dwindling bone density as we age, especially in the over-50s, but do they work? The answer is a resounding “no” according to a new meta-analysis recently published by New Zealand researchers. The October 2013 review paper, published in the Lancet found little or no increase in bone density in supplement takers leading to the conclusion that, at least as far as bone density is concerned, vitamin D supplements may be at best a waste of money!

The researchers identified 23 studies with an average total duration of two years and covering 4,000 participants, 92% of which were women with an average age of 59. From the 23 studies collected, 70 sets of individual statistical tests for an association of vitamin D supplementation with bone density were performed. So what did they find? Well, the overwhelming majority of these tests, 89%, showed no significant association at all, leading the authors to conclude “…the use of vitamin D supplements for osteoporosis prevention was inappropriate”. Now, 9% of the tests did show a small beneficial association but only one of these actually showed this across multiple bone mineral density test sites and 3% of the tests actually showed a negative association.

This is not the first time supplements have been shown to be less than useful. Since vitamin D is not very common in food (except for some cereals and fortified milk and orange juice) and vitamin D supplements apparently don’t work, what can you do about it? The best way to get what you need is healthy sun exposure. Approximately 15 minutes with bare arms and legs easily gets you there, more time than that and you should wear sunscreen to protect your skin. The good news is that vitamin D is fat soluble so it accumulates in the fatty deposits of your body thus, the more you generate in the summer the longer your stored supply will last you through the winter. Avoiding sun exposure all together is a sure way to become vitamin D deficient. Not a good situation especially with inadequate levels being linked to a lack of appetite control, incontinence and in kids’ faster weight gain.

Published November 1, 2013

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