Yesterday on National Public Radio (NPR) I heard the announcer tell us on behalf of Kaiser Permanente that laughter is good for your health, so why not laugh a little? They also have a lot of other idiotic advice on calcium which I will dissect below but before I get on to that I have to digress. What is all this NPR crap, anyway? I mean they got gazillions of dollars from the widow of the founder of McDonald's restaurants and now they are trying to convince us that they are living off our $20 donations? (The fact is that if they stopped writing me letters addressed to Mr. Doug Vaccarino, the last name of my wife, I might give them more). And if they want to help our health why don't they tell us to stop eating at McDonalds? Why don't they have a public service announcement that people who eat at fast food restaurants (like McDonalds, hello?) twice or more a week have a greater than 90% chance of getting diabetes or heart disease? (Well the answer is, duh, um, I don't know, er...).
OK back to calcium. I'm not sure why Kaiser really cares about people taking calcium other than they want to be into prevention (Hmm, cool topic) and want to get people's attention off whatever negative aspects are associated with their providing of health care. I mean, when people have to deal with Kaiser about getting their health care, do they laugh or do they cry? I don't know but if they are like any other American health care system, I suspect the latter.
OK back back back to calcium. Doctors routinely recommend supplementation with calcium and Vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures in postmenopausal women. Taking calcium increases calcium in the blood, making more available for uptake into the bone. With normal aging, there is a decrease in calcium absorption by the stomach. Vitamin D is known to increase calcium absorption in the gut, as well as acting synergistically with calcium to promote bone density. This has led to the common practice of prescribing calcium and Vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of hip fractures. It sounds so good and all makes logical sense, and it can't hurt, so why not go ahead and do it? (why not laugh, for that matter).
However, just because you become deficient in something with aging, doesn't mean that supplementation will correct the problem. Studies have shown that calcium and vitamin D supplementation in people over age 65 increased total bone density, but not necessarily in areas that matter, like the femoral neck, which causes hip fracture. The only studies which showed that calcium and Vitamin D prevented hip fractures were done in French women who had osteoporosis and were living in nursing homes. However these women may have calcium and/or Vitamin D deficiency due to diet or lack of sunlight from being in a nursing home (n'est pas?).
Other studies in individuals outside nursing homes found no beneficial effects from Vitamin D and calcium supplementation in terms of hip fracture prevention. One study of patients who had a fracture and became immobile did not find any benefit of Vitamin D and calcium in the prevention of secondary fractures. The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) included 36,282 premenopausal women age 50 to 79 who were randomly assigned to receive 1000 mg of calcium with 400 IU of Vitamin D-3 or placebo with a follow-up of 7 years for assessment of bone fracture. Supplementation did not reduce the risk of hip fracture. Although there was an increase in hip bone density, there was also an increase in kidney stones. Since increasing hipbone density has no practical benefit and is not related to reducing the risk of hip fracture, while increasing kidney stones is definitely negative, there is no reason to take these supplements.
Bottom line? Take grandma for a walk in the sun, and eat a balanced diet with lots of greens and vegetables to get your calcium fix.
And if you wanna laugh a little? Laugh at what stupid public service announcements Kaiser is putting on the radio.
Follow Doug Bremner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dougbremner