, Volume 14, Issue 3 Supplement, pp 9-13

Role of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention and the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis: An overview

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Summary

When discussing the use of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention and the treatment of osteoporosis one can make a distinction between the use as dietary supplementation to correct or prevent deficiencies, and the pharmacologic use of higher doses, whether or not in association with other drugs. However, in practical terms it is not always possible to clearly make this distinction.

Available evidence suggests that increasing the calcium intake can favourably affect the build-up of bone mass in adolescence. In this population, the daily consumption of calcium in the diet should, optimally, be at least 1200 mg/day. In view of the lack of data pertaining to the effect on the final peak bone mass, there is at present time no basis for the systematic administration of calcium supplements to healthy children and adolescents.

Calcium supplementation, aiming at a total calcium intake of at least 1500 mg/day, has a partial protective effect on postmenopausal bone loss, this effect being documented mainly in women more than 5 years after menopause.

In the present state of our knowledge, there is no established role for vitamin D supplementation in the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis, except in elderly patients presenting with a higher risk for relative vitamin D deficiency and with low calcium intake. The results of a controlled trial suggest that in institutionalised elderly patients, systematic administration of calcium and vitamin D supplements can substantially reduce the risk of hip fracture.

In the treatment of established postmenopausal osteoporosis, calcium supplementation has only a role as a general adjuvant therapeutic measure and as a specific complement to the treatment with other active compounds. There are indications that treatment with α-calcidol or calcitriol has a positive effect on the evolution of bone mass, but awaiting further confirmation of a favourable effect on the incidence of osteoporotic fractures, treatment with these drugs remains experimental.