Mixed results for older women taking calcium and vitamin D supplements

Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements in older age is linked to mixed long term health outcomes in women, according to an international study that found the supplements were associated in a reduced risk of dying of cancer but an almost equal increased risk of dying of heart disease. The team looked at a range of health outcomes including cancer, heart disease, death of any cause and hip fractures among a cohort of women who participated in a randomised controlled trial of vitamin D and calcium supplements about 20 years ago. The researchers say those who took the supplements for the trial had  a 7% reduction in cancer mortality risk and a 6% increase in heart disease mortality risk, but they found no differences between the supplement group and placebo group for deaths from all causes or hip fractures.

Journal/conference: Annals of Internal Medicine

Link to research (DOI): 10.7326/M23-2598

Organisation/s: University of Arizona, USA

Funder: National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health

Media release

From: American College of Physicians

Analysis reveals long-term impact of calcium and vitamin D supplements on health in postmenopausal women
After more than 20 years, supplementation associated with lower cancer mortality and higher CVD mortality
Abstract: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M23-2598
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A follow-up analysis of a randomized clinical trial found that the use of calcium and vitamin D supplements among postmenopausal women was associated with decreased risk for cancer mortality, but increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. The analysis is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The largest randomized trial of CaD supplementation, completed by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), examined the effects of daily CaD supplementation on health outcomes in postmenopausal women. The results were largely null. However, the 20-year adjudication of health events and mortality in the WHI CaD trial, complemented with National Death Index data, provided an opportunity to update the original findings and evaluate longer-term health risks.

Researchers from the University of Arizona conducted a post-hoc analysis long-term postintervention follow-up of the 7-year randomized intervention WHI trial of CaD versus placebo to evaluate long-term health outcomes among postmenopausal women. The researchers looked for incidence of cancer, disease-specific and all-cause mortality, CVD, and hip fracture by randomization assignment. Analyses also were stratified on personal supplement use. They found that for women who were randomly assigned to take CaD supplements had a 7% lower risk of dying from cancer over a period of about 22 years compared to those taking placebo. However, there was also a 6% higher risk of dying from CVD among those who took the supplements. The study didn’t find any significant overall effect on other measures, including all-cause mortality. The authors noted that cancer incidence seemed to depend on whether the women were already taking supplements before the study began and CVD mortality was higher among those taking the supplements.

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