CLEVELANDConsuming calcium and vitamin D after menopause can help improve women's cholesterol levels, according to new research published in the journal Menopause. Researchers from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) found much of this effect stems from raising women's vitamin D levels.
Although the topic of whether calcium or vitamin D can improve cholesterol levels has been debated, lead researcher Peter Schnatz, D.O., NCMP, and his team found women who took a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily lowered their low-density lipoprotein (LDLthe “bad" cholesterol) levels and raised their high-density lipoprotein (HDLthe “good" cholesterol) levels.
Each day, women in the trial took either a supplement containing 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D3 or a placebo. This analysis looked at the relationship between taking supplements and levels of vitamin D and cholesterol in about 600 of the women who had both their cholesterol levels and their vitamin D levels measured.
The women who took the supplement were more than twice as likely to have vitamin D levels of at least 30 ng/mL (normal according to the Institute of Medicine) compared to the women who took the placebo. Supplement users also had LDL levels that were between 4 and 5 points lower. The investigators discovered, in addition, that among supplement users, those with higher blood levels of vitamin D had higher levels of HDL and lower levels of triglycerides (although for triglycerides to be lower, blood levels of vitamin D had to reach a threshold of about 15 ng/mL).
Taking the calcium and vitamin D supplements was especially helpful in raising vitamin D levels in women who were older, women who had a low intake, and women who had levels first measured in the winterwhat you might expect. However, lifestyle also made a difference. The supplements did more to raise vitamin D levels in women who did not smoke and who drank less alcohol.
Whether these positive effects of supplemental calcium and vitamin D on cholesterol will translate into benefits such as lower rates of cardiovascular disease for women after menopause remains to be seen, but these results are a good reminder that women at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency should consider taking calcium and vitamin D, according to the authors.
“The results of this study should inspire even more women to be conscientious about their calcium and vitamin D intakea simple and safe way to improve health," said NAMS executive director Margery Gass, M.D. "One action can lead to multiple benefits."
The study, “Calcium/vitamin D supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and cholesterol profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative calcium/vitamin D randomized trial," will be published in the August 2014 print edition of Menopause.
Previous research also indicates that older individuals who take vitamin D and calcium can reduce their mortality risk by 9%. The research represents a beneficial effect of these supplements beyond the reduced risk for fractures.