Can Many Older Adults Skip Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements?

Calcium and vitamin D supplements have been recommended and used to support bone health for decades. However, conflicting research hints there are no risks or gains of seniors skipping out on them.

The Importance of Calcium and Vitamin D

With the endorsement to “Drink milk to build strong bones,” the importance of calcium was flagged even at any early age.

And since the body cannot produce calcium on its own, the mineral must be obtained through food sources, including the notorious dairy products. Its absorption can be enhanced by vitamin D, with the pairing infamous on milk jugs and often identified as “fortified with vitamin D.”

Nonetheless, adequate supply of both minerals is needed to support bone health, clot blood, and to secure proper functions for the heart, muscles, and nerves.

Why Seniors Might Consider Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements

First off, male seniors aged 51 to 70 should consume at least 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day until age 71, when the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is increased to 1,200 mg.

Women ages 51 and older are encouraged to increase their needs to 1,200 mg compared to 1,000 mg during ages 19 to 50. And when it comes to vitamin D, adults aged 19 to 70 should obtain 600 international unit (IU) daily while seniors aged 71 and older are advised to 800 IU.

The increased recommendations in seniors were set into place to mitigate the risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures, particularly as falls is the leading cause of home injury death, with one out of every three seniors aged 65 and older falling each year.

But to make matters more worrisome, seniors also tend to be more susceptible to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies related to a reduced appetite and oral intake, altered nutrient utilization, lessened sun exposure to acquire vitamin D.

Supplementation is often the first method to counterbalance the risks of deficiencies, especially if the susceptibly risks are prominent. 

Can Many Older Adults Skip Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements?

Despite the logic of supplementing with calcium and vitamin D, there is evidence suggesting otherwise. Recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical experts suggest most adults do not need to take low doses of calcium and vitamin D via supplemental form.

However, let it be clear the formulated advice was primarily aimed at “community-dwellers” and not those living in nursing homes or evidence and/or risks of a bone disorder. And not to mention, research is scarce regarding whether or not higher doses of supplementation makes a positive difference at any age.

Nevertheless, the National Osteoporosis Foundation continues to support the use of a supplementation, as an updated meta-analysis in 2016 concludes, “the use of calcium plus vitamin D supplements as an intervention for fracture risk reduction in both community-dwelling and institutionalized middle-aged to older adults.”

While navigating the recommendations regarding supplements can be confusing and conflicting, researchers and practitioners do recognize the significant importance of calcium and vitamin D on bone health. They commonly agree people are relying too much on vitamins and minerals rather than focusing on diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors.

Ultimately, before nixing supplements altogether, consult with a primary healthcare provider to develop an individualized, comprehensive osteoporosis prevention or treatment program with a primary care provider.