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Panel questions value of calcium, vitamin D pills

WASHINGTON — Healthy older women should not take relatively low-dose supplements of calcium and vitamin D in hopes of maintaining strong bones, according to recommendations from a government advisory group.

Both nutrients are crucial for healthy bones and specialists advise getting as much as possible from a good diet. The body also makes vitamin D from sunshine. If an older person has a vitamin deficiency or bone-thinning osteoporosis, doctors often prescribe higher-than-normal doses.

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But for otherwise healthy postmenopausal women, adding modest supplements to their diet doesn’t prevent broken bones but can increase the risk of kidney stones, the US Preventive Services Task Force said Monday. It isn’t clear if those doses offer bone protection if taken before menopause, or if they help men’s bones, the guidelines said.

Higher-dose supplements have become more common recently, but there is not enough evidence to tell if they would prevent fractures, either, in an otherwise healthy person, the panel concluded. It urged more research.

It’s a confusing message considering that for years, calcium and vitamin D supplements have been widely considered an insurance policy against osteoporosis, with little down side to taking them.

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