Supplements Lowered Bad Cholesterol in Older Women

Vitamin D and calcium supplements lowered LDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Could taking supplements possibly help women improve their health? A new study looked at the effects of supplements on 'bad' cholesterol.

Vitamin D and calcium supplements significantly reduced LDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women, a new study found.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is commonly called bad cholesterol because it helps build up plaque on the arteries, leading to a narrowing of the arteries known as atherosclerosis. Reducing LDL can therefore lower the risk for heart attack and stroke.

"Ask your doctor whether taking a vitamin D supplement can help you."

This study, led by Peter Schnatz, DO, of the Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania, included 576 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79.

The women were randomized into two groups. One group (291 women) took a supplement of calcium carbonate (with 1,000 mg of elemental calcium) combined with 400 units of vitamin D3 in two daily divided doses. The other group (285 women) took a placebo (fake supplements).

The women were enrolled between 1993 and 1998 and came from multiple sites throughout the United States. Their blood cholesterol levels and levels of vitamin D were assessed at the start of the study, and then periodically throughout the study.

The women who were taking the supplements had an average decrease in their LDL levels of 4.46 mg/dL. They also had blood vitamin D levels that were 38 percent higher than women on placebo.

The women taking the supplements were more than twice as likely as women taking placebo to have vitamin D levels of at least 30 ng/ml, which is the normal level according to the Institute of Medicine.

The women taking supplements did not have significant differences in their HDL (good) cholesterol or triglycerides.

The women who experienced the largest increases in their blood vitamin D levels were older, had a low intake at the start of the study, had first levels checked in the winter, were nonsmokers and drank less alcohol.

The researchers noted that previous research has not found the same benefit from vitamin D supplements. Dr. Schnatz and team suggested that the women with the greatest benefit in this study may have been on hormonal therapy or most compliant with making lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or increased physical activity.

These authors also mentioned that the positive effects of taking the supplements have not been shown to lower rates of heart disease in these women.

In a press release, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Executive Director, Dr. Margery Gass, said that “the results of this study should inspire even more women to be conscientious about their calcium and vitamin D intake.”

This study, online now at the website for NAMS, will be published in the August edition of Menopause.

No conflicts of interest were noted.

Review Date: 
March 7, 2014
Last Updated:
March 10, 2014