A new study has found postmenopausal women can improve their cholesterol with calcium and vitamin D supplements. The study was published in the journal Menopause.

The idea of these supplements improving cholesterol has been up for debate. For example, a recent Rockefeller University study published in the American Heart Association journal found no change in the cholesterol levels of 151 people with vitamin D deficiency following an eight-week period of taking either a huge dose of vitamin D3 or a placebo. 

Additionally, previous studies of women taking the aforementioned combination could not separate the effects of calcium from those of vitamin D on cholesterol, say the researchers behind the new study.

North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Board of Trustees member Peter F. Schnatz, DO, NCMP and his team sought to settle the debate by examining the effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements on cholesterol, as well as how it affected blood levels of vitamin D in postmenopausal women.

Women who participated in the trial took either a supplement containing 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D3 or a placebo on a daily basis. The study featured 300 white, 200 African-American and 100 Hispanic participants, all of whom were randomly selected by the large-scale Women’s Health Initiative.

The women who took the supplement were more than twice as likely to have “normal” vitamin D levels, or at least 30 ng/mL. The “bad” cholesterol levels of supplement users were between 4 and 5 points lower, while researchers also found supplement users with higher blood levels of vitamin D had high levels of good cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides.

How and if these positive results will translate into other health benefits for menopausal women, such as lower rates of cardiovascular disease, is unknown at this time. However, researchers still emphasize the study as a reminder that women are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency and should increase their intake of both supplements.

“The results of this study should inspire even more women to be conscientious about their calcium and vitamin D intake-a simple and safe way to improve health. One action can lead to multiple benefits!” says NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD.