Do You Really Need Vitamin D Supplements?

You may have heard that researchers who analyzed hundreds of studies have concluded that vitamin D supplements won’t protect healthy, middle-aged adults from osteoporosis. And even worse, the scientists say the supplements may increase the risk of death from other diseases.

However, none health experts at the Cleveland Clinic warn that you need to make sure you aren’t deficient in vitamin D before you stop taking the supplement, especially if you are past menopause.

“The take-home message for patients with vitamin D deficiency should not be ‘you won’t benefit from vitamin D supplementation.’ Vitamin D can have a positive impact,”says rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD.

Adds rheumatologist Johnny Su, MD, “If you are healthy and are not getting treatment for any medical problems, you don’t have to worry about starting supplements. But if you are now taking supplements, be sure to get your vitamin D levels checked before stopping.”

Who still needs their D

People in the following categories should keep taking vitamin D supplements, says Dr. Su:

*Postmenopausal women

*Men and women on long-term steroids

*Elderly people (home-bound or in nursing homes/assisted living)

*Expectant and breastfeeding mothers (Tell your daughters and daughters-in-law!)

*People with chronic kidney disease

*People with parathyroid disease

If you aren’t sure if you’re at risk for vitamin D deficiency, Dr. Su recommends asking your healthcare provider to check your vitamin D level. He or she should work with you — and repeat the easy blood test required — to make sure you’re taking the right amount of supplement.

Calcium and vitamin D: a partnership

Calcium and vitamin D work in tandem to strengthen and protect your bones. For years, experts have recommended that postmenopausal women take calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis. The bone-thinning disease is a major cause of devastating fractures in old age.

Research linking calcium supplements to heart attack and stroke caused many to take vitamin D supplements alone for prevention. “Calcium supplements can increase calcification in the arteries and predispose people—especially women—to heart disease. That is why we always prefer dietary calcium,” explains Dr. Su. “However, some people get adequate dietary calcium but are low in vitamin D.”

Your skin must manufacture vitamin D from sunlight, but that is not the best way to boost vitamin D, he adds. It’s important to wear sunscreen to protect against skin cancer, but that negates the sun’s effects.

Fracture protection: What the studies say

For older patients at risk of vitamin D deficiency, Dr. Deal notes that supplements can have a major impact. They can prevent osteomalacia, a softening of the bone that makes fractures more likely.