Trying to sort out all of the research about the health effects of vitamin D and calcium may leave you more baffled than enlightened. For years, people were told to take calcium for bone health, but newer studies have linked calcium supplements with increased heart disease risk. And for all the positive studies about vitamin D, there are others that suggest that it's possible to get too much of a good thing.
To find out more about the effects of vitamin D and calcium on longevity, researchers from around the world collaborated on a review of trials that studied the two nutrients.
Eight studies met the criteria for the analysis. The trials looked at the effects of vitamin D taken alone or in combination with calcium on mortality over the course of three years in 70,528 people. Most of the participants were women around 70-years-old.
Here's what the analysis showed:
- Vitamin D taken alone did not appear to reduce the risk of death.
- When vitamin D and calcium were taken together, the risk of death decreased by 7%.
The researchers suggested that calcium and vitamin D might work better in tandem than either works alone, possibly through an additive effect or through their ability to reduce the risk of several cancers.
"Calcium with vitamin D supplementation for elderly participants is overall not harmful to survival, and may have beneficial effects on general health," concluded the team.
Getting the nutrition you need
Adequate vitamin D status is linked to protection from a number of different chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
For many seniors, getting enough vitamin D can be a challenge. Production of vitamin D in the skin decreases with age, and food sources (like egg yolks and fatty fish) can't be relied upon to provide as much vitamin D as the body needs. Taking a supplement might be a good idea for people with low blood levels of vitamin D. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D is right for you.
On the other hand, it's easier to get enough calcium from your diet, even if you're lactose intolerant. Sesame seeds, tofu, sardines, and corn tortillas made with lime have lots of it, as do leafy green vegetables like bok choy and kale.
(J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012 doi:10.1210/jc.2011-3328)