Harvard Women's Health Watch

Calcium and vitamin D supplements improve cholesterol in older women

Women who take calcium and vitamin D supplements after menopause have lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, according to a study published online March 5, 2014, in the journal Menopause. The finding came from a subgroup of women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative trial. About 600 women took either a supplement containing 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D3, or an inactive pill (placebo). After six years, women who had taken the supplement had higher concentrations of vitamin D in their blood. They also had a 4.46 mg/dL decrease in LDL cholesterol, higher HDL cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels. However, researchers couldn't tease out whether it was the calcium or the vitamin D in the supplement that led to the change in cholesterol levels. Previous studies of calcium supplementation on cholesterol have been inconsistent. The researchers also don't know at this point whether the improved cholesterol profile might actually contribute to lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Because previous studies have linked calcium supplements with increased heart risks, it's important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplement. The ideal way to get these nutrients is still from foods like milk and other dairy products, fortified orange juice, and leafy greens. You can get vitamin D through your skin when it's exposed to the sun. If you're deficient in your diet or low in sun exposure, then ask your doctor whether you need a supplement.

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