Role of vitamin D, in combination with calcium, indisputable for bone health

10 January 2014

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Friday 10 January 2014 - Despite the current debate surrounding vitamin D, its role in maintaining good bone health and protecting against osteoporosis, in combination with calcium, is indisputable.

While evidence of the potential role vitamin D may play in non-skeletal conditions mounts, the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) agrees with recent editorial comments in The Lancet that large clinical studies would help to properly assess the effects of vitamin D for health conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, dementia and inflammatory diseases.1

According to ASMI Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Director, Steve Scarff, vitamins and supplements are not a panacea for preventing chronic disease, however, they do have a legitimate place in the wider health system and remain important for many people.
"ASMI recognises that robust evidence is essential if we want to demonstrate vitamin D's role in preventing a range of non-skeletal conditions. In the meantime, what we don't want to see is people with brittle bones, as well as those at high-risk of osteoporosis, cutting vitamin D out of their supplement routine and making themselves vulnerable to future fractures."

Mr Scarff added that for people who are not obtaining adequate calcium or vitamin D from diet or natural sources, supplementation is known to be a highly effective way to fill the gap and to reduce fracture risk by up to 24 per cent.2

ASMI's recommendation is for people who are at-risk of osteoporosis to speak to a qualified healthcare professional. If they are found to be calcium or vitamin D deficient, supplementation may be recommended as preventative action.
At-risk populations include:3,4

  • People with naturally very dark skin
  • People with little or no sun exposure - e.g. people who hospitalised, living in an aged care facility or working jobs that prevent sun exposure such as shift workers, miners, or even office workers working particularly long hours
  • People who cover up with long robes/head coverings because of religious or cultural reasons
  • Breastfed babies of mothers who have low vitamin D levels
  • People with a malabsorption conditions
  • Older adults who, due to age, can not synthesise vitamin D as efficiently
  • People who are overweight or obese

In Australia and New Zealand, the recommended daily intake of calcium is between 1000 and 1300 mg per day for adults. For vitamin D, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) considers that doses of up to 80 mcg* are safe.5 Most supplements that are available in Australia are 25 mcg or less.5
Mr Scarff added that ASMI, alongside several other healthcare stakeholders, is awaiting feedback on the current MBS review into vitamin D testing.

"While the number of vitamin D tests carried out in Australia has grown in the last decade, these tests have uncovered a significant number of people in Australia with low vitamin D levels. This is an important outcome, since low levels of vitamin D can have serious long term health consequences.

"ASMI looks forward to the outcome of the MBS review into Vitamin D testing. In our view, testing for vitamin D deficiency provides an opportunity for informed discussion on treatment options - that is, appropriate sun exposure versus supplementation, and their respective risks and benefits," Mr Scarff said.

About ASMI: The Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) is the peak industry body for the Australian self care industry representing consumer healthcare products including over-the-counter medicines and complementary medicines. ASMI's mission is to promote better health through responsible self-care. This means ensuring that safe and effective self-care products are readily available to all Australians at a reasonable cost. ASMI works to encourage responsible use by consumers and an increasing role for cost-effective self-medication products as part of the broad national health strategy.

1. Editorial. Vitamin D: chasing a myth? The Lancet Vol 2 January 2014.
2. Tang BM, Eslick GD, Nowson C, Smith C, Bensoussan A. Use of calcium or calcium in combination with vitamin D supplementation to prevent fractures and bone loss in people aged 50 years and older: a meta-analysis. The Lancet. 2007 Aug 25;370(9588):657-66.
3. Peter R Ebeling et al. Building healthy bones throughout life: an evidence-informed strategy to prevent osteoporosis in Australia. MJA Open 2 Suppl 1. 4 February 2013.
4. Steven Boyages and Kellie Bilinski 2012: Seasonal reduction in vitamin D level persists into spring in NSW Australia: implications for monitoring and replacement therapy. Clinical Endocrinology. 2012 77, 515-523
5. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes. 2006.

For more information or to arrange a media interview, please contact:
Michelle Sollitt-Davis
PR Manager, Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI)
M:0422 084 951 E: