The findings, reported yesterday in The Lancet, were concluded after a five and a half year trial involving almost 5,300 people aged 70 and over who had suffered a fracture in the last 10 years.
The trial - funded by the Medical Research Council, with support from Shire Pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical company Nycomed - investigated the effect of calcium and/or vitamin D3 on the incidence of further fractures in men and women aged 70 and over with a previous low-trauma fracture.
The participants, who were recruited through fracture clinics and in-patient wards at 21 hospitals across the UK, were randomised to take 1000mg calcium, 800 International Units (IU) vitamin D3, both, or a placebo. Most participants were able to walk out of doors unaccompanied and less than 1 per cent came from nursing homes.
Participants were followed up for between 24 and 62 months. Six hundred and ninety-eight participants (13 per cent) suffered a further low-trauma fracture, including 183 people with hip fractures.
"We found no statistically significant differences between those allocated calcium and those not; those allocated vitamin D and those not; and those allocated both calcium and vitamin D versus placebo. We also noted no significant differences for hip fractures, mortality, falls or quality of life," said Professor Grant, director of the university's Health Services Research Unit (HSRU) and lead investigator of the trial.
He admitted that he was surprised by the findings given the results of previous studies.
"Our results suggest that we should consider other strategies for secondary fracture prevention, including pharmacological intervention with drugs such as bisphosphonates that help maintain bone density and reduce fractures," added Grant.
However, the study did not directly address whether taking supplements could help prevent broken bones in people who had no previous fractures or those living in a nursing home environment. Nor did it evaluate the use of calcium and vitamin D in combination with bone active drugs such as bisphosphonates.
Fractures resulting from osteoporosis are an important cause of ill-health with annual public sector costs estimated to run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
From the age of 50, one in three women and one in twelve men will have an osteoporotic fracture, such as those of the hip, wrist or spine. Those who have already suffered a fracture of this kind are at increased risk of suffering a further fracture.