For years, vitamin D and calcium supplements have been touted as contributors to strong bones and teeth. Research has indicated that vitamin D, specifically, may even help ward off such maladies as heart disease, flu and certain cancers.
Now, a new report from a major health body suggests that most Americans may have been getting the vitamin D and calcium they have needed all along, without supplements.
This morning, the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization connected to the National Academy of Science, released a report containing new dietary recommendations for vitamin D and calcium .
Estimated average requirements for the two nutrients were set in 1997 and have not been updated since.
"In 1997, the recommendations were established as a sort of estimate of what the institute thought was proper levels," said Dr. Clifford Rosen, senior scientist at Maine Medical Center's Research Institute and one of the committee member experts on the IOM report. "But now we have true levels, based on firmer data over the last 15 years.
"So there are finally dietary allowances established for the first time, based on the systematic review of comprehensive evidence that wasn't available on a large scale in 1997," he said.
The IOM assigned a committee of experts to review more than one thousand studies related to vitamin D and calcium. And even though the report noted solidified evidence that calcium and vitamin D are essential ingredients for bone growth and maintenance, the review found a surprising a lack of evidence that supported health benefits in preventing illnesses, such as the flu, cancer and heart disease.
"I was surprised by the paucity of evidence available to support that," said Rosen. "There were clearly some associations, but there were no gold-standard randomized trials to support those conclusions."
Still, Americans could find themselves taking 50 to 100 percent more vitamin D to keep up with the new recommended daily levels.
The review committee found that the majority of Americans and Canadians receive the appropriate amount of vitamin D and calcium, except for girls ages 7 to 18. The report also found that postmenopausal women taking supplements may actually be getting too much calcium, which could increase their risk for kidney stones.
"We were very pleased to find that most Americans will be covered for their bone health by taking 600 units of vitamin D and 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day," said Rosen.
Standing by previous recommendations, the committee says infants and children ought to receive 200 to 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and older children and adults should get 1,000 to 13,000 milligrams.
The committee made more significant changes to Vitamin D recommendations. Previous estimated average requirements recommended 400 International Units (IUs) a day for everyone. The new IOM report recommends that infants receive 400 IUs of the vitamin per day, and 600 IUs for children and adults. Committee members said that people aged 71 or older may need a bit more -- about 800 IUs per day.