The headline made it clear: Vitamin D Supplements Are of No Benefit to the Over 70s. If that’s true, then anyone over 70 spending money on vitamin D is just wasting their money. The headline makes it sound like vitamin D doesn’t work for anything. And the study seems convincing.
But is it true?
While the headline makes it sound like vitamin D can’t help those over 70 fight any health challenge, this study focused on one thing – bones. The researchers wanted to find out if vitamin D can strengthen bones, reduce bone loss, and decrease falls and fractures.
The reason they wanted to test vitamin D is that the researchers acknowledge right off that “Vitamin D insufficiency is common in older people and may lead to increased bone resorption, bone loss, and increased falls and fractures.” Then they say that “clinical trials assessing the effect of vitamin D supplementation on bone mineral density (BMD) have yielded conflicting results.”
In other words, we know that those over 70 are deficient in vitamin D. We also know that they’re at greater risk of bone loss, falls, and fractures. And we know that vitamin D has shown promise in some studies, but not in all the studies.
This study wasn’t a review study of those trials where vitamin D worked, so it doesn’t seek to discover why it works in some cases, but not others. This study just wanted to find out if the vitamin stops bone loss and prevents falls. That’s a tall order for one nutrient.
The Details of the Study Show Why Vitamin D Didn’t Work
The researchers examined the effect of vitamin D on the bone mineral density at the hip of 379 adults over the age of 70. All of the participants were deficient in vitamin D at the outset of the study (a blood level of less than 50 nmol/L).
The researchers divided the participants into three groups and gave them either 12,000 IU, 24,000 IU, or 48,000 IU once a month for 12 months. This may seem like a lot of vitamin D. But it’s not. It translates to about 400 IU, 800 IU, and 1,600 IU daily. Since most alternative doctors recommend 2,000-5,000 IU daily, the doses used were actually too small. This could be one reason the nutrient didn’t work.
The study doesn’t tell us when the researchers tested the subjects’ blood levels of vitamin D. We don’t know how close to receiving the dose they did the test. This is important. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. So you can take a very large dose once a month and it will slowly decline over the next 30 days (while a water-soluble nutrient will decline very quickly). If the researchers tested close to when they took the vitamin, their blood levels would be higher.
The researchers found that the three groups did see their blood levels increase to 55.9, 64.6, or 79.0 nmol/L, respectively. These are good vitamin D levels. If they did their test close to when they took the vitamin D, it would give a different reading than giving the test several weeks after taking the dose.
Since the dosages were on the low side, I suspect they tested the blood levels within a week of the participants taking the dose. That could be one explanation for the lack of benefit in bone-mineral scores.
What If the Vitamin D Really Didn’t Work?
But what if the researchers did their testing after 30 days? If that’s the case, then the doses they were giving were big enough to boost the blood levels to optimal levels – something we don’t see at the doses they gave. So this would be surprising and worth testing more.
We also would begin to wonder why the vitamin didn’t work when the blood levels were optimal. Which is exactly what other researchers did several months ago. If you remember a study I told you about back in April, you’ll know the answer. Those researchers found that vitamin D is ineffective when your magnesium levels are low.
Many researchers and doctors look at each nutrient as a drug and think it should work all the time by itself, much like they expect from a drug. However, God created nutrients to work together. When we take them individually, they can have some benefit. But their greatest benefit usually comes when they’re working with other nutrients. In this case, vitamin D needs magnesium to work effectively.
Did these researchers measure magnesium levels in their participants? If they did, they didn’t mention it in their report. So it’s unlikely they did. We know that magnesium deficiency is a huge problem, particularly for the elderly.
One study found that less than 30% of U.S. adults consume the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium. The RDA for magnesium is only 310-420 mg (depending on gender). Most people need closer to 1,000 mg to overcome a deficiency. That means that most adults in the U.S. have insufficient levels of magnesium to get the most out of vitamin D.
Don’t Rely on Vitamin D Alone
If you’re over 70, it’s vital you take enough vitamin D every day (or once a month) to get your blood levels over 50 nmol/L. This will help you get the flu-fighting benefits of vitamin D – as well as many of the other health benefits of having optimal levels in your body.
But if you need to build your bones, don’t rely on vitamin D alone. As I mentioned earlier, nutrients all work together in your body. And some work in ways that other nutrients don’t. So make sure you’re taking a high-quality multivitamin, up to 1,000 mg daily of magnesium, and the following two nutrients to keep your bones healthy:
Many years ago, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that strontium gave 84% of the participants significant improvement in their bone remineralization. Another study found that strontium reduced the participants’ risk of vertebral fracture by 31% and nonvertebral fracture by 27%. But it gets better. They also found that it reduced the risk of major nonvertebral fracture by 33% and hip fracture by 24%.
What’s more, strontium works with vitamin D to protect your bones. In one study, the researchers wanted to find out if taking vitamin D with strontium would maximize the effect of the bone nutrient. They found that the vitamin D works to boost strontium's bone-building ability.
To discover this connection, the researchers looked at 108 women who were taking strontium to fight osteoporosis. They gave the women 25,000 IU (biweekly) of vitamin D along with the strontium and measured their bone mineral density after 18 months.
The researchers found that the vitamin D and strontium combination caused “a significant bone mineral density gain.” Considering the study that just came out, which suggests vitamin D doesn’t help your bones, it’s clear the researchers’ focus was too narrow. They needed to include other nutrients in the study.
In the last 40 years, there have been numerous studies showing just how important silica is for your bones. A glimpse at these studies shows that silica increases bone volume and increases femoral and lumbar spine bone mineral density.
One study showed that it was more effective than the osteoporosis drug Etidronate (a bisphosphonate) and sodium fluoride. It also reduces bone resorption and bone loss and increases bone formation and bone mineral content (bone mineral density). Some animal studies show that it also helps your muscles gain strength and reduces bone-related injuries. What's more, all of these studies were on silica as a supplement – not just dietary intake.
The reason silica is so great for your bones is because it's involved in the synthesis and/or stabilization of collagen. Collagen, as you may know, plays a vital structural role in our body, contributing to the formation and resilience of bone and connective tissue. You'll find collagen in your bones; your ligaments, tendons, and muscles; and your hair, skin, and nails.
If you’re over 70, don’t let the headline that vitamin D doesn’t work for you scare you away from taking this vital nutrient. The media likes to attack supplements and often misrepresents the studies. In this case, they made it sound like the nutrient doesn’t work for anything, when the study was clearly focused on bones.
Vitamin D is critical for your bones. And most people – especially those over 70 – are deficient in vitamin D. So make sure you’re taking plenty of vitamin D every day (5,000 IU). But don’t stop there. You have to take other nutrients with it to make sure your body can use it.
I mentioned magnesium, strontium, and silica here. But there are other nutrients that are important for your bones too. There’s hops, vitamin K2, boron, manganese, potassium citrate, and many others.