Sometimes it really pays to take a second look at the studies assessing the value of nutritional supplements. A new long-term look at the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study is a perfect example.
While the first look did not show benefit from supplementing, this second look by Harvard scientists reveals that when study participants were fully compliant and took their supplements as directed for many years, there was in fact a huge benefit: a 29% reduction in hip fractures. And they also found benefits they weren’t even looking for at the outset: 13% reduction in vertebral fractures and even a small reduction in certain kinds of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Why the difference?
When you dig a little deeper into the study data, some points jump out that highlight why it’s so important to get the whole story — not just the headlines. Also, sometimes the story changes as time passes! Here are the facts I find most important:
• Focus on long-term vs. short-term use. You need time to see changes in hip fracture rates, so it’s not surprising to me that the long-term analysis shows more benefits. In the original analysis, the women in the study had been taking supplements for seven years, while in the most recent analysis, the women who continued to take supplements for an additional five years saw an increased benefit. Just imagine what the benefits will be in five more years!
• The women who showed the most benefit used supplements regularly. In all studies, there’s always a percentage of women who don’t take the supplements or don’t take them as often as recommended. In this case when researchers excluded the women who did not use the vitamin D and calcium as directed, and counted in their analysis only the women who did use of supplements appropriately, they found very significant results.You have to take the supplements to get the benefits!
• Calcium and vitamin D showed benefits in small doses. In this case the dose of vitamin D was so small that it could hardly be considered to be therapeutic. Think what we might we see if vitamin D was given in sufficient amounts to reach optimum blood levels of 50 ng/mL? My research suggests a 50% fracture reduction is possible in these cases.
Finally with a study like this, you really get proof that while you can make a difference in your bone health at any age, the earlier you begin — the better! You can get a good start on your bone health with my wide range of Better Bones supplements — all of which include optimal amounts of calcium and vitamin D, plus a wide range of other important bone-building nutrients.
Cauley JA, Chlebowski RT, Wactawski-Wende J, et al. Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and health outcomes 5 years after active intervention ended: the Women’s Health Initiative. J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2013;22:915-929.