So do I keep taking these dang pills or not?

Take a look at my Google News Health headlines:Screenshot of Google news headlines

Of the 105 related news articles on the results of a calcium and vitamin D study, the top two featured articles say:

The study showed better hip bone density in the group given supplements, but they ranked no better statistically in avoiding fractures of all kinds.

Associated Press, MSNBC News: Calcium not as protective as believed, Supplements offer limited defense against broken bones in older women, Feb. 15, 2006. (The Google screenshot shows the source as “Newsweek,” but the link was to the Associated Press article at MSNBC News)

… and…

Although hip fractures were significantly reduced, the supplement did not affect overall bone density scores very much. On average, they improved by about 1 percent for women taking the supplements compared with those taking a placebo.

Joy Victory, ABC News: Hip Fractures Reduced by Taking Vitamin D, Calcium Supplement, Seven-Year Study of Women Over 50 Shows Benefit, Feb 15, 2006

I may not be the sharpest knife in the flatware set, but I sense a contradiction here.

Thank goodness we can go straight to the source and bypass these confused journalists, to The New England Journal of Medicine, where the guys in the white lab coats have kindly posted an abstract of the study.

While I tripped over several odd phrases like “renal calculi” and “hazard ratio” and “prerandomization serum”, at least the conclusion was in plain English.

Among healthy postmenopausal women, calcium with vitamin D supplementation resulted in a small but significant improvement in hip bone density, did not significantly reduce hip fracture, and increased the risk of kidney stones.

Abstract, “Calcium plus Vitamin D Supplementation and the Risk of Fractures,” Volume 354:669-683, Feb. 16, 2006, Number 7

Okay, I’m not over 50 yet, but I do take calcium for various reasons. And even if it isn’t the osteoporosis prevention panacea we originally heard it was, there are still plenty of other ways to keep bones strong and dense, many of them outlined in “Move it or Lose It: How exercise helps to build and maintain strong bones, prevent falls and fractures, and speed rehabilitation.”

So take the pills or don’t take them, but don’t depend on calcium supplements alone to prevent osteoporosis.

And all you hard core writers take note: according to “Move it or Lose It,” women who sit for more than 9 hours a day are 50% more likely to have a hip fracture than those who sit for less than six hours a day.

6 Replies to “So do I keep taking these dang pills or not?”

  1. OK, but instead of sitting can we lie down!?

    I say take them. This week down under, they’re now recanting the believed risks of HRT, and now pushing for women in the short term to take it.

  2. I’ve been debating this with myself for years: fractures or kidney stones? I’ve had two fractures since the big M, and they were bad enough. No kidney stones PASSED yet (but they are growing), and I’ve heard that’s a horribly painful experience. Pain here or pain there? I’m gong to sit here and think about this some more.

  3. Yeah, Michelle, that HRT thing has me going around in circles. I’m getting to the point where I don’t believe any of these studies any more: if you don’t like the results of a study, wait a little bit, and another study might come out to contradict it!

    Georganna, I hope you drink lots of water! My dad had kidney stones, so I share your concern about preventing them. And besides, based on what I read in “Move it or Lose It,” it looks like the most impressive gains in bone strength come from exercise, rather than supplements.

  4. Bonnie, I live in California–I already drink lots of water and walk a mile daily. I also take antihistamines and a diuretic, so more water is needed. Sometimes I feel like a friggin’ fountain! If only I could charge the water company rent for what just passes through my biological filtration system.

  5. “flatware set”? Google shows it to be common US parlance but I’ve never heard the phrase this side of the pond. We would probably say “in the canteen” or “tool in the box”. Always nice to learn a foreign language 🙂

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