Taking calcium and vitamin D together may reduce the risk of dying from cancer, but increase the risk of dying from heart disease

New research suggests that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements together may be both beneficial and risky for postmenopausal women.

The study, published in Annals of Internal Medicinefound that while women taking both supplements at the same time decreased their risk of dying from cancer, they also increased their chances of dying from cardiovascular disease.

According to Holly Thacker, MD, an internist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in menopause and women’s health conditions, postmenopausal women are at high risk for developing osteoporosis because bones lose density when estrogen drops during this time. Osteoporosis has been linked to low calcium levels, and vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, so many postmenopausal women take both supplements.

However, experts said the study highlights the need to discuss specific circumstances with a health care provider before taking supplements.

I think what we’re starting to appreciate is that more isn’t always better, said Anuradha Lala-Trindade, MD, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai. Health. Supplementation must be justified and individualized based on initial risk and potential benefit.

Here, experts explain how calcium and vitamin D supplements can affect postmenopausal women and what to consider before taking them.

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For the study, researchers analyzed the records of more than 36,000 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Womens Health Initiative, a program funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services that has been in operation since 1992.

For about seven years, about half of the participants took 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium carbonate (which included 400 mg of elemental calcium) and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D3, a form of vitamin D that humans produce naturally. The rest took a placebo.

The study ended in 2005, and the researchers followed the participants until December 2020.

The team found that participants in the supplement group had a 7% lower risk of dying from cancer than the placebo group. However, they were 6% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than people who did not take calcium and vitamin D.

The researchers noted that the study has some limitations. For one thing, it did not show that the supplements caused the increased and reduced mortality risk, but simply revealed an association between the two. Nor did it discover which formula had the most vital link to mortality: calcium, vitamin D, or a combination of the two.

Thacker said Health that the amount of calcium and vitamin D the participants took could have influenced the results of the study.

She said this study used too much calcium if she was also getting it in the diet, and probably not the optimal intake of vitamin D for most adult women. You don’t need to take calcium supplements if you get enough from your diet and have adequate vitamin D levels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium for women ages 51 to 70 is 1,200 mg, and the RDA for vitamin D for women in this age group is 600 international units .

The study builds on previous research examining how supplements affect heart health individually.

Some studies have linked vitamin D supplementation to a reduced risk of cancer, Lala-Trindade said.

Although observational studies have linked low vitamin D levels to an increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, he added, ‚Äúsupplementation has never been shown to decrease cardiovascular risk in randomized controlled trials. [which are] the gold standard for testing the effectiveness of a given intervention.”

Calcium, on the other hand, has been associated with increased cardiovascular risk in both randomized trials and observational studies, according to Lala-Trindade.

New research underscores the need to talk to a health care provider before adding new supplements to your routine. Even if you’ve started taking supplements without advice, experts say it’s worth checking with a medical professional.

Although calcium and vitamin D are sometimes recommended for postmenopausal women, your health care provider may decide that they are not necessary for you.

Lala-Trindade said health care providers consider patients’ risk of developing conditions and complications before making recommendations.

“I think the cardiovascular community has appreciated that large-scale vitamin D and calcium supplementation can, in fact, increase cardiovascular events, especially for those who are at high risk,” he added.

Still, Lala-Trindade said the results of this study may not be significant enough to change current recommendations.

While the study is important, he explained, I don’t know if this study will change practice.

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