Dietary supplements that prevent bone loss at the hip and that can be applied safely in the elderly are likely to reduce hip fractures. A daily dietary supplement of 750 mg calcium or 15 microg 25OH vitamin D3 on bone loss at the hip and other sites, bone turnover and calcium-regulating hormones were studied over 4 yr in elderly volunteers using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Bone mineral density (BMD) was measured by dual x-ray absorptiometry and bone structure by radiographs. Calcium biochemistry and bone turnover markers were measured in blood and urine. The 316 women entering the trial had a mean age of 73.7 yr and the 122 men of 75.9 yr. Baseline median calcium intake was 546 mg/day, and median serum 25OH vitamin D3 was 59 nmol/L. On placebo, loss of BMD at total hip was 2% and femoral medulla expansion was 3% over 4 yr. Calcium reduced bone loss, secondary hyperparathyroidism, and bone turnover. 25OH vitamin D3 was intermediate between placebo and calcium. Fracture rates and drop-out rates were similar among groups, and there were no serious adverse events with either supplement. A calcium supplement of 750 mg/day prevents loss of BMD, reduces femoral medullary expansion, secondary hyperparathyroidism, and high bone turnover. A supplement of 15 microg/day 25OH vitamin D3 is less effective, and because its effects are seen only at low calcium intakes, suggests that its beneficial effect is to reverse calcium insufficiency.