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May 2018

Do Older Adults Need Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements?

The older you get, the more likely you are to develop osteoporosis—a condition in which your bones become weak and easier to break. Calcium and vitamin D play key roles in helping keep your bones strong.

Bowl of certeal and milk

So, does that mean you or someone you love should be taking calcium and vitamin D supplements?

Research says …

Maybe not, according to a recent study in JAMA. The authors analyzed the results from 33 clinical trials. They found that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of breaking a bone for older adults living independently. This suggests that the supplements may be a waste of money for many older adults.

Still, everyone is different. Some people at high risk for osteoporosis may benefit from taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Talk with your doctor about what’s right for you or your loved one.

Ask your doctor whether you or your loved one should get a bone density test. This test looks for a high loss of bone tissue, which increases the risk for painful and disabling broken bones.

When needed, a doctor can prescribe medicine to prevent more bone loss or build new bone.

Bone-boosting tips

Here are other ways to protect bone health:

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium. Good sources include low-fat milk and dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, sardines, and calcium-fortified drinks and cereals.

  • Include foods containing vitamin D. This vitamin is found in egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and D-fortified milk and cereals.

  • Don’t smoke or drink heavily. Both are bad for bones, and heavy drinking increases the risk for a bone-breaking fall.

  • Get weight-bearing physical activity. Examples include walking, jogging, climbing stairs, dancing, tennis, and weight training.


Print out a list of questions about bone health to take to a doctor appointment. Get the checklist here.

Online Medical Reviewer: Mercer, Nelda, MS, RD, FADA
Date Last Reviewed: 3/5/2018
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