Calcium and vitamin D supplements: how they affect mortality risk

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A new study looks at how common supplements can affect health. Valentina Barreto/Stocksy
  • A new study looks at how common supplements are associated with the risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
  • The study found that women who took calcium and vitamin D had a lower risk of dying from cancer.
  • But women had a slightly higher risk of dying from heart disease if they were postmenopausal.

New research suggests that calcium and vitamin D supplements reduce the risk of dying from cancer and potentially slightly increase the risk of dying from heart disease in postmenopausal women.

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) previously investigated the health effects of daily calcium and vitamin D supplementation in postmenopausal women, but found no significant effect.

The recent report, published this month in Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed death follow-up data from these participants to identify long-term health effects associated with calcium and vitamin D (CaD) supplementation.

In the United States, older women’s diets tend to lack vitamin D and calcium, according to past evidence, leading many doctors to recommend supplements to those in this age group.

This study highlights the complex relationship between supplements and biological effects and clinical outcomes, and the need for more research in this field, Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center. in Laguna Hills, CA, he told Healthline.

Chen was not involved in the study.

Researchers evaluated health data collected from the WIHs trial in addition to data from the National Death Index to determine whether long-term daily calcium and vitamin D supplements affected the risk of cancer or heart disease of women

The researchers looked specifically at whether the women, who originally participated in the WIH trial, developed cancer, heart disease, had a hip fracture, or died in the years after the trial.

They found that women taking calcium and vitamin D supplements had a 7% lower risk of dying from cancer over 22 years compared to those taking a placebo.

They also found that those taking the supplements had a 6% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular effects were more pronounced in women who had been taking supplements before they were assigned to take supplements as part of the trial.

Supplementation appeared to have no notable impact on the overall prevalence of cancer, heart disease, hip fractures, or all-cause mortality.

This study found a long-term association between calcium and vitamin D supplementation in postmenopausal women and decreased cancer mortality and increased cardiovascular disease mortality, with no difference in all-cause mortality. explain Chen.

Although it is not clear why, exactly, calcium and vitamin D supplements may affect the development of cancer, some research suggests that they decrease it. tumor invasivenessprevent angiogenesis (or blood vessel formation) in and around tumors, and affect intestinal functions and bile acid production.

Past evidence also suggests that vitamin D specifically increases tumor gene suppression and regulates inflammation in the body.

It can also slow the growth of cancer cells and increase cell death, says Fredrick Schumacher, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine.

Schumacher was not involved in the study.

A recent meta-analysis, which looked at the results of five trials, determined that vitamin D supplementation was linked to a 13% reduction in cancer mortality.

Although the evidence on calcium and vitamin D supplementation and heart disease has been mixed, some researchers suspect that excess calcium may lead to calcification of the coronary arteries, thereby increasing the risk of dying from the disease of the heart

Previous research has also identified a link between calcium supplementation and an increased risk of coronary heart disease, regardless of whether people also take vitamin D supplements.

Coronary artery calcification is when the arteries become hard and narrow over time due to calcium deposits and plaque build-up. This can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, said Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RDN, CDECS, CDN, preventive cardiology dietitian at Entirely Nourished.

Routhenstein was not involved in the study.

According to Chen, calcium and vitamin D supplementation is routinely recommended for people who don’t get enough calcium in their diet along with postmenopausal women.

Supplements are mainly used prevent osteoporosis and fractures in older adults, however, its use has been controversial.

Doctors often disagree about the optimal doses and regiments of calcium and vitamin D supplements, and some doctors have expressed concern about not knowing the long-term health effects, according to the past. research.

Routhenstein says calcium supplementation should be used in people who can’t get adequate calcium intake through food.

Not getting enough calcium increases the risk of osteoporosis, which is a risk factor for heart disease, he added.

That said, it’s crucial to be cautious and intentional about taking any supplement.

For example, absorption is higher with supplements of 500 mg or less.

When calcium supplements are used without assessing current calcium intake, the excess can contribute to coronary artery calcium progression, Routhenstein says.

More research is needed to determine the ideal duration and dosage, Schumacher says.

The authors report several important observations related to nutrition and long-term health among postmenopausal women, however, these results need to be replicated. Also, the generalizability of these findings needs to be assessed in additional groups, especially in more diverse populations, Schumacher said.

New research suggests that calcium and vitamin D supplements reduce the risk of dying from cancer and potentially slightly increase the risk of dying from heart disease in postmenopausal women. In the United States, older women’s diets tend to lack vitamin D and calcium, leading many doctors to recommend supplements in this age group. The new study underscores how future research is needed to better understand the long-term health effects related to daily supplement use.

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