, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 567-580,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Health risks and benefits from calcium and vitamin D supplementation: Women's Health Initiative clinical trial and cohort study

Abstract

Summary

The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial randomly assigned 36,282 postmenopausal women in the U.S. to 1,000 mg elemental calcium carbonate plus 400 IU of vitamin D3 daily or placebo, with average intervention period of 7.0 years. The trial was designed to test whether calcium plus vitamin D supplementation in a population in which the use of these supplements was widespread would reduce hip fracture, and secondarily, total fracture and colorectal cancer.

Introduction

This study further examines the health benefits and risks of calcium and vitamin D supplementation using WHI data, with emphasis on fractures, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and total mortality.

Methods

WHI calcium and vitamin D randomized clinical trial (CT) data through the end of the intervention period were further analyzed with emphasis on treatment effects in relation to duration of supplementation, and these data were contrasted and combined with corresponding data from the WHI prospective observational study (OS).

Results

Among women not taking personal calcium or vitamin D supplements at baseline, the hazard ratio [HR] for hip fracture occurrence in the CT following 5 or more years of calcium and vitamin D supplementation versus placebo was 0.62 (95 % confidence interval (CI), 0.38–1.00). In combined analyses of CT and OS data, the corresponding HR was 0.65 (95 % CI, 0.44–0.98). Supplementation effects were not apparent on the risks of myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, total heart disease, stroke, overall cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, or total mortality, while evidence for a reduction in breast cancer risk and total invasive cancer risk among calcium plus vitamin D users was only suggestive.

Conclusion

Though based primarily on a subset analysis, long-term use of calcium and vitamin D appears to confer a reduction that may be substantial in the risk of hip fracture among postmenopausal women. Other health benefits and risks of supplementation at doses considered, including an elevation in urinary tract stone formation, appear to be modest and approximately balanced.