LONDON Older people who take calcium supplements alone or in combination with vitamin D reduce their risk of bone fractures by 12 percent, according to findings researchers said offer important insights into osteoporosis.
Researchers said the study underscores evidence that calcium by itself or with vitamin D can prove to be an inexpensive treatment to prevent bone loss and fractures caused by the disease.
Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones affecting about one in three women in the world and about 20 percent of men, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. The condition affects mostly older people and makes them prone to bone fractures.
Calcium has traditionally been considered the key to bone strength, though recent studies have also shown that exercise such as simple walking are also important.
Writing in Friday's issue of the Lancet medical journal, researcher Benjamin Tang and colleagues at the University of Western Sydney found that risk of bone fractures fell with calcium doses of more than 1,200 milligrams and with vitamin D doses of 800 international units or more.
"In view of the large number of calcium supplementation tablets sold worldwide, adequate dosage is an important issue to address if best possible public-health benefits are to be realized," Tang and colleagues wrote.
The team did not look directly at people with osteoporosis but instead conducted what is called a meta-analysis by reviewing 29 studies to explore the link between the supplements and bone fractures. Most of the nearly 64,000 people in the studies were women and all were older than 50.
Results from such a large group provide drug makers, physicians and patients with important information concerning calcium supplements and vitamin D, which are essential components in managing osteoporosis, the researchers said.
This is especially important given ageing populations worldwide, especially in poorer countries ill-prepared to pay for more expensive preventative drugs as well as the cost of treating the fractures themselves, researchers said.
"Tang and colleagues' contribution is important because it paves the way for future research aiming at the best clinical, pharmacological and economic optimization of the use of calcium and vitamin D in patients at increased risk of osteoporotic fractures," Jean-Yves Reginster of the Bone and Cartilage Metabolism Unit in Belgium, wrote in an accompanying comment.