Vitamin D is essential for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium. The best source is sunlight, which our skin uses during the summer months to manufacture the vital vitamin. Other sources include margarine, egg yolks, cod liver oil and oily fish such as herrings and sardines, as well as fortified foods like breakfast cereals and yoghurts.
But how beneficial are fortified foods? Can they help reduce the risk of bone fractures, and is this a cost-effective approach?
Researchers in Belgium and the Netherlands recently set out to assess the cost-effectiveness of vitamin D-fortified yoghurt given to postmenopausal women with and without an increased risk of osteoporotic fracture.
Three personalised supplementation methods were devised to reflect different calcium and vitamin D needs, taking into account variations in dietary habits and the possible use of pharmacological supplementation or anti-osteoporosis medications.
Women taking part in the study were given one, two or three yoghurts a day, with each yoghurt containing 400 mg of calcium and 200 international units of vitamin D.
Results showed that one yoghurt daily is cost-effective in the general population above the age of 70 years and in all age groups in women with low bone mineral density or prevalent vertebral fracture.
A daily intake of two yoghurts was found to be cost-effective above 80 years in the general population and above 70 years in the two groups of women at increased risk of fractures. Three yoghurts per day is only cost-effective above 80 years old both in the general population and among the high-risk patients.
According to the researchers, this is the first economic analysis supporting the cost-effectiveness of dairy products, fortified with vitamin D, in reducing osteoporotic fractures.