Right now, more than one-third of Americans take at least one dietary supplement, and 30 percent of seniors take four or more, according to Penn Medicine. Yet experts have long cast doubt on the efficacy of certain supplements that they say fall short of their promised benefits. Now, a new study has taken aim at one especially popular supplement, which has long been touted to strengthen your bones. The researchers warn that this supplement comes with no such benefit—even if you are considered deficient in this vitamin, or have osteoporosis. Read on to learn how this benefit has been debunked, and to find out which one group of people should continue taking this supplement.
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Medical professionals have long recommended supplements to protect against osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle, often causing breakage. Some of the most popular supplements used to fight the condition include calcium and vitamin D.
However, a small handful of other supplements are also believed to be protective of your bones. “Physicians are less likely to be aware that dietary insufficiencies of magnesium, silicon, Vitamin K, and boron are also widely prevalent, and each of these essential nutrients is an important contributor to bone health,” explains a 2012 study published in the Open Orthopedic Journal.
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A new 2022 study published in the The New England Journal of Medicine has found that one of the most widely recommended supplements used to protect bone health—vitamin D—has no such benefit.
“The prevailing opinion at the time was that vitamin D was likely to prevent bone fractures. Researchers thought that as vitamin D levels fell, parathyroid hormone levels would increase at a detriment to bones,” explains the study. To find out whether this was true, the researchers tested “whether supplemental vitamin D3 would result in a lower risk of fractures than placebo.”
The team reviewed data spanning roughly five years from over 25,000 subjects. Of that group, they confirmed nearly 2,000 bone fracture injuries during the study period. They learned that vitamin D3 did not have any significant effect on total fractures, non-vertebral fractures, or hip fractures when compared with the control group.
The researchers published an editorial alongside their research, in which they actually urged the public to stop taking vitamin D to protect their bones.
“Providers should stop screening for 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels or recommending vitamin D supplements and people should stop taking vitamin D supplements in order to prevent major diseases or extend life,” wrote Steven R. Cummings, MD, a research scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, and Clifford Rosen, MD, a senior scientist at the the MaineHealth Institute for Research as well as an editor at The New England Journal of Medicine.
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The researchers note that their findings held true regardless of “baseline characteristics, including age, sex, race or ethnic group, body-mass index, or serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels,” meaning whether or not someone is vitamin D deficient.
However, one group of people will likely still require vitamin D supplements, The New York Times reports: those with celiac or Crohn’s disease, who may have difficulty absorbing the vitamin through regular nutritional sources.
Speak with your doctor if you have questions about vitamin D, or any other supplement you may be taking or considering. Most important, be sure to eat a well-balanced diet which includes vitamin D-rich foods such as oily fish, mushrooms, eggs, milk, and fortified cereals.