Vitamin Supplements: Helpful or Harmful?
The Signal & the Noise
You walk into the vitamins and supplements aisle of the drugstore, and it’s as confusing as ever. Reading the labels of multivitamins, fish oil, “essential” minerals, and the like makes things not much clearer. There seem to be as many types of supplements as there are supposed needs of the body. There are vitamins and minerals for those with a widerange of orthopedic issues like knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, or wrist pain as a result of injury or osteoarthritis. But do you really need to take them? Do they work?
Supplements aren’t regulated the same way as non-prescription or prescription drugs. For those “natural” vitamins and minerals, this lack of regulation makes the rules much looser. When it comes to researching what could help your joints, it’s important, then, that you dig a little deeper. But the real kicker is that even among health professionals and members of the medical community, there’s much debate about the benefits of popular supplements and their potential risks.
Let’s take a look at the frames of this controversy and see if there are any definitive answers.
Strong Bones & Healthy Smiles
You’ve probably seen commercials or ads by the National Dairy Council emphasizing the benefits of milk for bones and all-around good health. This claim is made because milk contains two nutrients that are helpful: vitamin D and calcium. Both of these have long been believed to support healthy joints and maintain bone density. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that those with orthopedic issues take about 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D a day (though ideal level of intake may vary based on age and weight).
These figures are based on substantial evidence. If the body gets rid of more calcium than it takes in, the bones grow weaker. Proponents point to studies showing a reduced rate of bone breaks in those who took increased levels of vitamin D and calcium.
Where Do You Get Your Nutrients?
But there is another issue researchers are studying: increasing the level of nutrients not from natural sources such as milk, but through supplements. One such study was conducted by Mark Bolland, MBChB, PhD, and associate professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. According to Dr. Bolland and his team, the extent to which these nutrients brings benefit may be overstated. Furthermore, the risks associated with Vitamin D and Calcium supplements may very well outweigh any advantages.
Meta-Analysis of Calcium Supplements
Dr. Bolland’s work was based on an extensive meta-analysis of 26 studies. Among the principal findings was that consumption of calcium supplements only led to 11% reduction in bone fractures–significantly less than previous assessments. Furthermore, supplements can actually increase the risk for a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular conditions, kidney stones, and intestinal problems. As far as calcium is concerned, then, the research brings strong evidence there’s little to no reason to take it in the form of supplements.
Subsequent reviews of this work refuted the research team’s stance. One such study, conducted by a team comprised of researchers from seven prominent American medical institutions, found higher benefits for combinations of vitamin D and calcium supplements than Dr. Bolland’s team. According to them, bone fractures were reduced by 15%, and hip fractures by 30%, with regular consumption of supplements. Other researchers found calcium and vitamin D to not actually increase the risk of kidney stones. Based on this work, then, the IOM has not changed its 2010 recommendations.
As more research is conducted the general consensus seems to be that while there are some risks associated with taking supplements, lack of vitamin D and calcium adversely affects bone and joint health. Current guidelines mandate orthopedic surgeons measure levels of vitamin D in patients prior to major joint surgery. Such measurements, it is believed, help in cases of osteoarthritis, bone fractures, and cancer.
Clarity & Care
So while there is debate concerning taking supplements, there is none regarding the importance how to boost your joint and bone health. Do your own careful research and don’t necessarily believe all of the claims on the packaging.
If you have questions about ways you can boost your orthopedic health, or if you’re suffering from an issue in your joints or bones, talk to an expert at Onward Orthopedics today about the minimally invasive and highly effective approaches available. Call a caring Patient Care Manager today at (800) 577-1693.
- Harrison, Laird. ‘Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements for Orthopedic Patients’. October 12, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2017. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/869605.