Calcium Alone Increases Hip Fractures but Lowers Total Fractures


Effect of calcium supplementation on hip fractures.

There have been numerous studies of the effects of calcium supplementation, with or without vitamin D, on fractures. Individually, they have not provided clarity regarding calcium’s anti-fracture efficacy, though they have established that calcium does have beneficial effects on bone density throughout the skeleton in women. Meta-analysis of these data suggests that total fracture numbers are diminished. However, the data from the 5,500 women involved in trials of calcium monotherapy show consistent adverse trends in numbers of hip fractures (relative risk 1.50, 95% CI 1.06-2.12). Observational data from the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures show a similar increase in risk of hip fracture associated with calcium use. We hypothesize that reduced periosteal expansion in women using calcium supplementation might account for the differences in anti-fracture efficacy of calcium at the hip, in comparison with other sites. Until there are further trial results to clarify this area, the present findings suggest that reliance on high calcium intakes to reduce the risk of hip fracture in older women is not appropriate. In addition, those at risk should be looking to other agents with a proven capacity to prevent hip fractures, such as bisphosphonates.

Reid IR, Bolland MJ, Grey A
Osteoporos Int Aug 2008
PMID: 18286218 | Free Full Text

Furthermore, our own recent trial of calcium monotherapy suggested that there might be heterogeneity between the responses of hip and other fractures to calcium supplementation [2], with downward trends in vertebral, forearm, and total osteoporotic fractures, but a significant increase in hip fractures.


Observational studies have also assessed the relationship between calcium use and fractures. While there is a potential problem of confounding by indication, it is noteworthy that the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures reported an increase in hip fracture risk in postmenopausal women taking calcium supplements of almost identical magnitude to that found in the present meta-analysis (relative risk 1.5; 95%CI, 1.1–2.0) [18]. This consistency across the available intervention studies and a large observational study raises doubts regarding the safety of calcium monotherapy in elderly postmenopausal women, though we cannot completely preclude the possibility that these results are a chance finding arising from the smaller numbers of this particular fracture type.

The adverse effect of calcium monotherapy on hip fractures poses the question of how this could occur when the same intervention has the opposite effect on total fracture numbers.

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