Oakland, CA, May 14, 2007 — Postmenopausal women who take calcium and
vitamin D supplements may gain less weight than those who do not,
although the overall effect is small, according to a report authored by a
Kaiser Permanente research scientist and featured in the May 14, 2007
edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study included 36,282 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 years who
were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative clinical trial. It found
that those who took daily calcium and vitamin D supplements over a
seven-year period weighed an average 0.28 pounds less, and were less
likely to gain weight than women who received placebos.
The greatest benefits were seen in women who began the study with
inadequate calcium intakes – those consuming less than the current
recommendation of 1,200 mg of calcium per day. These women were found to
be 11 percent less likely to experience small weight gains (2.2 to 6.6
pounds) after three years, and 11 percent less likely to gain more
moderate amounts of weight (more than 6.6 pounds).
“While this study shows that calcium and vitamin D supplements appear to
have some small benefits when it comes to controlling weight, women
clearly should continue practicing the basic tenets of weight management
– that is monitoring calories in their diets and getting at least 30
minutes of physical activity a day,” said lead author Bette Caan, DrPH, a
senior epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research in
Oakland, Calif. “Further research may be warranted to address the effect
of calcium and vitamin D supplementation combined with caloric
restriction and physical activity on weight gain prevention.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the
percentage of women ages 50 to 79 who are obese increased by nearly 50
percent in the 1990s.
Dr. Caan noted that age-related changes in body composition, metabolic
factors and hormone levels, combined with declines in physical activity,
are all factors that can contribute to weight gain and obesity as women
“We know that preventing weight gain is likely to have significant
health benefits for middle-aged women, so early to middle menopause may
be a critical period for women to effectively manage their weight,” she
Previous studies have shown some evidence that calcium and vitamin D
supplements, as well as foods rich in these nutrients, may play a role
in effective weight management. One explanation is that calcium and
vitamin D work together to regulate metabolism. In addition, calcium may
help decrease fatty acid absorption in the intestine.
Dr. Caan said the latest study findings do not justify altering current
dietary recommendations, and that postmenopausal women should continue
to be advised to consume 1,200 mg a day of calcium as recommended by the
Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
Study participants were already enrolled in the dietary modification
and/or hormone therapy arms of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a
long-term clinical trial launched in 1991 by the National Institutes of
Health to address the most common causes of death, disability and
impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women.
Women were randomized at their first or second year annual visit to
receive a dose of 1,000 mg of calcium plus 400 international units (IU)
of vitamin D supplements or placebo in a study initially designed to
test whether these supplements would reduce the incidence of hip
fractures and colorectal cancer. That study found that the supplements
slowed loss of bone density over a seven-year period, but were
associated with non-significant lower rates of hip fractures, and were
not found to be effective in preventing colorectal cancer in healthy
The latest study is believed to be the largest double-blind,
placebo-controlled clinical trial to report the effects of calcium and
vitamin D supplementation on weight change. It was funded by the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National
Institutes of Health.