Vitamin supplements fail to maintain bones in elderly

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Vitamin supplements taken by thousands of women to ward off the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis may be useless, research has found.

Vitamin supplements taken by thousands of women to ward off the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis may be useless, research has found.

Two studies involving more than 8,000 elderly people who took vitamin D and calcium supplements daily for up to five years found they had no effect on strengthening the bones or preventing injury from falls. The finding is a blow to hopes that supplements could provide the answer to one of the major causes of disability and death among the elderly.

An estimated three million people have osteoporosis in the UK and 200,000 suffer fractures each year as a result. One in three women and one in 12 men over 50 will be affected over their lifetime.

Hip fractures caused by falls cost the NHS £1.7bn a year. Almost one in three people aged over 65 reports having at least one fall a year, rising to one in two over the age of 80.

The National Osteoporosis Society said just last month that there was "good research evidence" that a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement might be of use for people with osteoporosis over 75.

The first hospital-based study, published in The Lancet online, was of more than 5,000 participants from 21 hospitals around the UK, who had had at least one fracture within the past 10 years.

Professor Adrian Grant of the University of Aberdeen, who led the research, said: "We have found no evidence that these supplements have a role to play. Instead we need to consider other strategies."

The second study, of more than 3,000 women living in the community, published in the British Medical Journal, found the supplements had had no effect over two years.

Bones tend to lose their density after the menopause in women or as a result of falling testosterone levels in men. Drugs such as biphosphonates can slow this process and reduce the risk of fractures.

The researchers said further studies were needed on the effect of the supplements in first-line protection for people who had not yet had any fractures.

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