Researchers say they could find no evidence that calcium and vitamin D pills could help prevent bone fractures.
The researchers focused on adults older than age 50 who lived on their own (that is, not in a nursing home or other type of residential care facility). Fractures are a serious health concern for this population and studies reveal that about 40 per cent of women in this age group will end up with at least one ''major osteoporotic fracture'' at some point in their lives. Also among the adults who break a hip, 20 per cent died within a year of their injury.
The researchers, led by Dr Jia-Guo Zhao of Tianjin Hospital in northeastern China, studied clinical trials, systematic reviews and other reports published in the last decade, since late 2006 and identified 51,145 people who were included in studies assessing the role of calcium and/or vitamin D in preventing bone fractures.
Their findings have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers uncovered that in 14 trials that pitted calcium supplements against either a placebo or no treatment, there was no statistically significant relationship between use of the mineral (in pill form) and the risk of suffering a hip fracture.
They also found no clear link between calcium supplements and fractures involving the spine or other bones.
''It is time to stop taking calcium and vitamin D supplements for the community-dwelling older adults,'' said lead study author, Zhao.
Vitamin D helps the body use calcium to support bone health, and many seniors are asked to take one or both of these supplements. While most adults are recommended a daily intake of vitamin D of 600 IU (international units), seniors about the age of 70 are advised to take 800 IU.
''The guidelines should be changed,'' Zhao said by email. ''We think that improving the lifestyle, getting enough exercise and enough sunshine, and adjusting the diet may be more important than taking these supplements.''