A new study has found that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may not provide the health benefits expected. Researchers are saying that there is little evidence in the medical literature showing that the pills help prevent bone fractures. The researchers based their findings on clinical trials, systematic reviews and other reports published over the last decade. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Fractures are a serious health concern for adults older than age 50. About 40 percent of women in this age group will experience at least one “major osteoporotic fracture” during their lives. About 20 percent of adults who break a hip die within a year of their injury. Many older adults take calcium and vitamin D supplements to reduce their risk of bone fractures.

There were 51,145 people included in studies assessing the role of calcium and/or vitamin D in preventing bone fractures. The researchers studied 13 trials involving people who took a combined calcium-vitamin D supplement. The combined supplement did not have a statistically significant link with the risk of any kind of fracture.

The role of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, was studied in 17 trials. In those studies, the researchers found no statistically significant link between supplement use and fracture risk. In fact, in some cases, adding more vitamin D through supplements was associated with a greater risk of hip fractures.

The researchers found an additional 14 trials that tested calcium supplements against either a placebo or no treatment. In those trials, there was no statistically significant link between calcium supplements and fractures involving the spine, hip, or other bones. Accounting for gender, past history of bone fractures, the amount of dietary calcium consumed and the dose of the calcium pills taken, there was no indications that the supplements were effective in reducing the risk of fractures.

A long-term study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the U.S. found that only women who took hormone therapy after menopause had a lower risk of fractures when taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. The new study does not include data from women on hormone therapy. The study also excluded those living in nursing homes or other residential facilities, only including adults who live on their own.