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Study finds calcium supplements have no benefit for old bones

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Study finds calcium supplements have no benefit for old bones
Increasing calcium intake through diet or supplements should not be recommended for fracture or osteoporosis prevention, according to studies led by an Auckland University researcher.

For most patients who are concerned about their bone health, they do not need to worry about their calcium intake​,” said Associate Professor Mark  Bolland, referring to two studies published in The British Medical Journal​ which concluded that increasing calcium intake was unlikely to improve bone health or prevent fractures in older people.

Collectively, these results suggest that clinicians, advocacy organisations and health policymakers should not recommend increasing calcium intake for fracture prevention, either by use of calcium supplements or dietary sources​.” 

Guidelines advise older men and women to take at least 1000-1200 mg/day of calcium to improve bone density and prevent fractures, and many people take calcium supplements to meet these recommendations.

Recent concerns about the safety of calcium supplements have led experts to recommend increasing calcium intake through food rather than by taking supplements, but the effect on bone health was unknown.

Dr Bolland’s team set out to examine the evidence underpinning recommendations to increase calcium intake from dietary sources or supplements to improve bone health and prevent fractures.

They analysed the available evidence from randomised controlled trials and observational studies of extra dietary or supplemental calcium in women and men aged over 50. Study design and quality were taken into account to minimise bias.

“In the first study, we found that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources or by taking supplements produces small [1-2%] increases in bone mineral density, which are unlikely to lead to a clinically meaningful reduction in risk of fracture,” said Dr Bolland.

The second study found that dietary calcium intake was not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures​.”

In an accompanying editorial, co-author Professor Karl Michaëlsson of Sweden’s Uppsala University said: “It is time to revisit recommendations to increase calcium intake beyond a normal balanced diet.”

Dr Michaëlsson said that ever increasing intakes of calcium and vitamin D recommended by some guidelines defined virtually the whole population aged over 50 at risk.

Yet most will not benefit from increasing their intakes​,” he said, “and will be exposed instead to a higher risk of adverse events [such as gastrointestinal side effects]

The weight of evidence against such mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations​,” Dr Michaëlsson added.

TPP deal praised by industry

Industry groups on both sides of the Tasman have come out in praise of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which will deliver a common set of rules among the 12 Asian and North American signatories..

New Zealand’s grocers claimed it will be the “biggest and most lucrative trade deal in New Zealand’s history​”. 

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council said there had been some big for some sectors and small gains for others, “but the main thing is that the agreement will be a big net gain for New Zealand​”.

Rich said: “We will have much better access to 800m people. The elimination of tariffs on 93% of our trade with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that represent 36% of the world’s GDP is very significant and will deliver huge benefits for our economy​.”

Her counterparts in Australia were also bullish about the deal. Gary Dawson, chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council said it would bring significant benefits for Australia’s food and grocery sector.

Complementary Medicines Australia also welcomed the the trade deal, with its chief executive asserting that it would have positive implications for the natural supplements segment across wider markets, bringing low or no tariffs, and potentially greater market access. 

Australian Complementary medicines are highly regarded because of the focus on quality and efficacy – Australian products are clean and green and we are experiencing an export boom to Asia​,” said Carl Gibson. 

We welcome the TPP, which will provide simplification and clarification of access requirements and operating conditions in countries including Malaysia, Mexico, and Vietnam​.”

However consumer advocate Choice Australia warned that the deal lacked transparency.

Campaigns manager Erin Turner said it was “absurd​” that the Australian delegation had “committed Australia to a deal the public has never seen​”.

The TPP has been described as a transformational, modern agreement that will deliver huge benefits for the citizens of nations involved. These claims have been made with no independent assessment and no cost-benefit analysis of the Agreement of Australia​," Turner said in a statement. 

Supermarkets rule as source of chocolate bar buying behaviour

The vast majority of Australians buy their chocolate bars from supermarkets, new research shows.

Where do Australian chocolate-bar buyers purchase their chocolate bars?

Roy Morgan Research found that out of the 6.5m Australians who buy chocolate bars, almost 5m do so at supermarket chains—accounting for more than three-quarters of the chocolate-bar buying public.

Convenience stores/petrol stations come a very distant second, tempting just 8% of all chocolate-bar buyers, though this format was still well ahead of vending machines (1%) and corner shops (also 1%).

Curiously, 13% of people who bought chocolate bars couldn’t say where they made their purchase.

Given that a higher proportion of women than men are their household’s main grocery-buyer, women were slightly more likely than men to buy chocolate bars at the supermarket: 78% of female chocolate-bar buyers compared with 74% of their male counterparts.

However, men outnumbered women when it came to buying chocolate bars just about everywhere else: from corner shops and newsagents to cafes/takeaways/sandwich bars, vending machines and sporting grounds.

Cadbury’s 50mg bars, including Dairy Milk and Top Deck, were the most popular brands purchased at supermarkets and corner shops, but were practically deadlocked with Kit Kats for top spot at convenience stores. 

Meanwhile, Snickers was the top-selling chocolate bar purchased from vending machines.

Since 2011, there has been a marginal decline in the proportion of Australians buying chocolate bars in an average four-week period, from 35% to 33%​,” said Andrew Price of Roy Morgan Research. 

This decrease is evident across most places of purchase, except for supermarkets, which are holding steady.

Of course, if we’re already at the supermarket doing the grocery-shopping, it’s easy and convenient to pick up a chocolate bar while we’re there. But that doesn’t explain why people who never do the groceries are almost as likely as main grocery-buyers to purchase chocolate bars at the supermarket​,” Price added.

Even considering how much cheaper chocolate is at the supermarket, it is unlikely that such a large proportion of non-grocery-buyers would make a special trip to the supermarket simply for a chocolate bar.

Scientists gain greater understanding of arid region’s water systems

A study has delivered an unprecedented account of water resources in Western Australia's Pilbara region, providing an in-depth understanding of local water systems and the potential impacts of climate change on water availability.

The Pilbara Water Resource Assessment project, an A$3.5m partnership between CSIRO, Australia’s government research body, BHP Billiton and the Western Australian government, will allow water managers and local industry to plan for future water use in an area rich in resources and environmental assets.

"Knowing how the water systems operate right across the region, such as how groundwater is affected by rainfall and storm events, helps with the planning and management of local water use​," said CSIRO's Don McFarlane, who led the project.

"By helping to put a lot of smaller local water resource investigations into a broader context, this study provides a strong framework for water managers and local industries well into the future​.”

The study revealed some of the mechanisms responsible for filling the Pilbara's groundwater stores. It found that 8-30mm of rainfall is required before runoff starts in most catchments, which leaks through streambeds to provide the main source of aquifer replenishment. 

Water from these shallow alluvial aquifers then recharges deeper paleochannels or dolomite aquifers, which can store large quantities of water in inland areas.

It also examined how ecosystems dependent on the region's groundwater sources have changed as a result of wet and dry periods, finding they expand during wet periods and contract during dry periods but have remained relatively stable in number over the past 23 years.

ACCC clarifies free-range guidelines in online guide

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released a guide to help egg producers to gain a better understanding of their rights and obligations when promoting their products as free range.

It explains the ACCC’s approach to enforcing misleading conduct provisions of egg claims in Australian consumer law at a time when the government is consulting on whether the country should adopt a national standard on free-range egg labelling.

Australian consumer law requires that any statement or representation a business makes when advertising or selling free range eggs must not be misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive​,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

The ACCC acknowledges that laying hens may spend periods indoors and we do not expect to always see hens on the range or expect every hen to be outside every day​.

A copy of the ACCC’s free range guide is available online​.

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