Taking these supplements may reduce the risk of cancer, research shows

By | March 17, 2024

Taking these supplements may reduce the risk of cancer, research shows

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  • Vitamin D and calcium supplementation may reduce the risk of cancer but increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, a new study shows.

  • The study, which looked at postmenopausal women, found that the combination of supplements had no effect on death from any cause.

  • Experts explain the findings.


To prevent postmenopausal women, calcium and vitamin D supplements are often recommended bone loss. New research shows it can do even more, reducing the risk of cancer. But could it also increase the risk? cardiovascular disease?

A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative study, which looked at the effects of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements in more than 36,000 postmenopausal women.

Researchers found that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements reduced women’s long-term risk of dying from cancer by 7%, but increased the risk of death from cancer. heart disease by 6%. The study also found that overall, the combination of supplements had no significant effect on early death overall.

Many people know the connection between calcium and how important it is for bone health and bone growth. But a lesser-known benefit of the nutrient is that it is important for blood clotting and may lower blood pressure, he says Melissa Perst, DCN, RDNnational media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. Vitamin D is also important for bone health and regulating the amount of calcium the body needs, she adds. “Vitamin D has been reported to play a role in supporting lung function, cardiovascular health, insulin regulation and glucose metabolism, and immune health.”

Some research has found that low levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, says Prest. Additionally, calcium may reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer, she notes. Still, “the evidence examining the relationship between dietary or supplemental calcium and cancer risk is mixed,” Prest explains.

So why are these results important? Oncologists prescribe a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors (called anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane) that are taken daily for five years to prevent breast cancer recurrence in certain women, says Madhu Shetti, MD, oncologist and founder of Balmere. “Many women are afraid to take the drug, or they do not complete the five-year course due to bone health problems. It is critical to consider options like vitamin D/calcium supplementation so that we can give everyone the best chance to protect their bone health and prevent cancer recurrence,” she explains.

This study confirmed findings from other studies about reducing cancer risk and increasing cardiovascular risk with calcium and vitamin D supplements, Prest says. “However, the authors did report that their study and findings had some limitations, so we cannot say in general that calcium and vitamin D supplementation may not be appropriate in postmenopausal women with heart disease.” More research is needed to understand the link between calcium and vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular risk, she notes.

Dr. Shetti also points out that given the study design, we are unable to distinguish the benefits of calcium and vitamin D separately from those of their combination. “Many people take calcium or vitamin D, but not both, so they may not get the same benefits as study participants,” she notes.

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So, is a vitamin D or calcium supplement right for you? Typically, we want to reserve supplementation for people who cannot meet their needs food sources or those who are deficient and need the extra boost of a supplement, says Perst.

That said, everyone should talk to their doctor and discuss the individual risks and benefits of adding vitamin D and/or calcium supplements, Dr. Shetti suggests. Individuals at higher risk of developing osteopenia (a loss of bone density that causes the bones to weaken but not low enough to meet the criteria for osteoporosis) or osteoporosis (a bone disease that occurs when bone density and bone mass decrease) may consider supplementation after consulting with their doctor, notes Keri Gans, MS, RD, registered dietitian and author of The small change diet. “Risk factors include Caucasian or Asian descent, smaller body frame, family history of osteoporosis, postmenopause, and history of amenorrhea (lack of menstruation),” she explains.

Dietary supplements are products that are intended to supplement the diet. They are not medications and are not intended to treat, diagnose, alleviate, prevent, or cure any disease. Be careful when taking nutritional supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, be cautious about giving supplements to a child unless recommended by the healthcare provider.

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