March 01, 2020

Are vitamin D supplements recommended if I have osteoporosis?

Q: I recently fractured my leg and was diagnosed with osteoporosis after. My doctor is recommending vitamin D supplements, but I read that they're no longer recommended. Should I take them?

A: Yes, vitamin D supplementation — and often calcium supplementation — is recommended for older adults with osteoporosis who are at risk of bone fractures. Still, it's wise to talk with your doctor before you start.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body requires primarily to build strong bones. The vitamin does this by helping your body absorb and maintain adequate levels of two other nutrients important to bone health: calcium and phosphate.

Taking a daily supplement with at least 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D is recommended for people age 65 and older who are recovering from a bone fracture. Coupled with that is recommended calcium intake of 1,200 milligrams (mg) daily, with diet preferably supplying most or all of this amount and calcium supplements used to fill any gaps. For example, most Americans get about 500 to 700 mg of calcium daily in their diets, so calcium supplementation of around 500 to 700 mg daily would bridge the gap toward the 1,200 mg goal.

One sometimes confusing aspect of vitamin D supplementation is that some other health claims — such as it helping to prevent falls — aren't well supported by the evidence. Therefore, if you're in good health, your vitamin D levels aren't low and your bone health is good, vitamin D supplementation may not be all that helpful. In addition, getting too much supplementary vitamin D can be harmful.

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