Vitamin D supplements are a waste when it comes to bone health, study says

BOSTON — Vitamin D may provide a number of health benefits, but strengthening your bones isn’t one of them. According to a new study, taking vitamin D supplements does nothing to prevent bone fractures in most healthy individuals.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital conducted an ancillary study as part of the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL), a clinical trial involving more than 25,000 adults. Their review examined 1,991 fracture incidents among 1,551 people over a five-year period.

Compared to participants taking a placebo, those consuming vitamin D3 supplements failed to reduce their risk for a variety of different bone fractures. These injuries include hip fractures, major osteoporotic fractures, wrist fractures, and pelvic fractures.

Differences in a patient’s age, sex, race, body mass index, baseline vitamin D blood levels, and consumption of calcium or vitamin D supplements did not change the results for better or worse.

Those with weak bones still need vitamin D

“Overall, the results from this large clinical trial do not support the use of vitamin D supplements to reduce fractures in generally healthy U.S. men and women,” says lead author Meryl LeBoff, MD, Chief of the Calcium and Bone Section in the Endocrine Division at the Brigham, in a media release.

“These findings do not apply to adults with vitamin D deficiency or low bone mass or osteoporosis. Most participants in the trial were not deficient and may have already reached the vitamin D level needed for bone health. Our ongoing studies are focusing on whether free vitamin D levels or genetic variation in vitamin D absorption, metabolism, or receptor function will provide information about individuals who may benefit from supplemental vitamin D on musculoskeletal health.”

Previous studies have suggested that vitamin D does play an important role in bone health. Scientists say the nutrient — which is abundant in sunlight and certain foods like fish — helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus. Both of these minerals are critical for building strong bones.

The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. I take supplements because I know full well that my daily diet is not perfect – probably like most – and I take the various common supplements to fill in the blanks for my overall health. To me, the relatively small cost is worth the expense. How many of us know for sure our daily diets are sufficient for our own specific needs?

  2. I’m 65 my knees have been aching for 15 years tender painful started taking 20,000 units of vitamin d a day my knees were better in 48 hours, and I cut down to 10,000 5 days a week and never had the achy and the pain come back again

  3. I notice I am not lethargic on vitamin D3. My.PTH is under control so D3 helps me keep
    m y bone levels from stable . Elevated pth means my calcium is not under control. I take 7000 international units of D3.

  4. Am I missing something or did they fail to state the dosage? 10,000IU/day of vitamin D is the single best thing you can do for your health.

    1. 10K IU is the NOAEL (“The highest intake (or experimental dose) of a nutrient at which no adverse effect has been observed.) “This NOAEL is initially adjusted for uncertainty to establish a UL of 4,000 IU/day, as described below.” “Dietary Reference Intakes fo Calcium and Vitamin D” Chapter 6 “Tolerable Upper Intake Levels”

  5. Weight training is extremely effective in building strong bones. Research has proven it’s effectiveness with ALL age groups.

    1. Shout it from the rooftops, but bear in mind that walking should be considered a case in point. My favorite high-intensity total body exercise is the Farmer’s Walk. You can get a special barbell bar for it and use regular iron weights, but the rectangular buckets that cat litter and laundry detergent come in work pretty well (round five-gallon buckets of water come to about 45 pounds but tend to scrape your legs; sand is much heavier but beware the plastic bail breaking loose). It gets you huffin’ and puffin’ right quick! Here is a superb backgrounder:

  6. Vitamin D3 should improve ones immunity to things like COVID as most people in winter do not get enough of it/

  7. Another biased study. Vitamin D needs vitamin K in order to be absorbed into your bones, this study didn’t take that fact into account.
    In fact the negative effects of high dose vitamin D (in your blood) is actually caused by low vitamin K. Mistakes like this are either sophomoric or intentional.

    “Further, there is evidence in human intervention studies that vitamins K and D, a classic in bone metabolism, works synergistically on bone density.”

    1. The primary driver of osteoporosis is silent inflammation, excess production of PGE2, activates osteoclast acivity, has little to do with vitamin D status, though D plays a major role in influencing inflammation. D needs K2 to put calcium into bone, D needs magnesium to become bioactive from D3 in pills. Adding omega 3s to diets help regulate arachadonic acid pathway to produce less PGE2. Healthy bone is influenced by many dietary factors, not just vitamin D status.

  8. Vitamin D alone is not enough for healthy bones. You also need Vitamin K2. D3 plus K2 plus CALCIUM equals bones of steel.

  9. Another poorly designed study — another waste of time. The human body is a complex system. Vitamin D does nothing, in isolation.

    Concluding that vitamin D supplementation does not improve bone health is like concluding that salt makes lousy bread — you can’t skip the flour, yeast and water!

    Vitamin D is a critical nutrient, for countless reasons beyond bone health. Vitamin D signaling regulates a myriad of metabolic processes, to the point where it is now regarded to be a hormone.

    In any case, supplementing vitamin D without also ensuring adequate vitamin K2 status will fail to properly enhance bone health.

    A quick Google search reveals that at least one study found 97 percent of participants to have vitamin K2 deficiency.

    Worse yet, lifestyle articles do nothing to meaningfully inform readers. Those interested in taking charge of their own health should research PubMed, read between the lines and connect their own dots.

    I do not supplement vitamin D daily. When I do, I take 10,000 IU’s D3 along with 100 mcg K2 (as MK-7.) If I feel a bug coming on, I might take 2x or 3x those amounts, to bolster my immune status — one time, only!

  10. The title of this article is horribly misleading. As a result some percentage of people who are deficient in vitamin D levels will not do anything to address their problem.

    This is irresponsible “journalism.”

  11. I’m over 70 and a vegan. I need iodine, calcium w/vitamin D3, and iron supplements. If you don’t get enough Sun on your skin, which you don’t in the winter, you may need vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps absorb calcium, and you need more vitamin D3 when you get over 70 years old. The Mayo Clinic suggests 600 IU for 1 to 70 years old, and 800 IU for those over 70.

  12. If the study did not also supplement magnesium and vitamin K2 then it was a worthless exercise. Try a study with D3, Mg and K2. Try an alternate group that adds ale to provide silicon.

  13. Okay, so one ‘study’ says D3 does nothing for bone health and the others say it is very important for many reasons, including Covid19. The human body is so complex that only an idiot could encourage people not to take it or, of course, people who are paid to do a study and get publicity.

  14. Of course if you give too low a dose and forget to add the vitamin K2, no results. Giving people the minimum number and not the optimal number is a good way to keep them sick and sell a lot of health care and drugs. Watch Dr Berg and learn that 10,000 iu daily is the dose that optimizes out health. I’m almost 60 and just got a zero on my CAC score following Dr Bergs advice.

  15. As noted vitamin K2 is essential for bone health. Vitamin K2 alone activates osteocalcin which is essential for calcium transfer from plasma to marrow matrix.

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