Women in their early 40s with the highest intake of vitamin D and calcium from food sources appear to have a lower than average risk of starting menopause before age 45, a recent study from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst suggests.
Taking vitamin D or calcium in supplement form had no benefit the study found.
Early menopause can have substantial health impacts for women – it increases their risk of cardiovascular disease, early cognitive decline and osteoporosis. Early menopause affects roughly 10 percent of women in the U.S. and other Western countries.
Menopause, when a woman stops menstruating and her levels of hormones like estrogen decline, typically happens between the ages of 45 and 55. Menopause before age 45 is considered “early.”
Vitamin D may be involved in some of the hormonal mechanisms of early menopause, but little is known about how dietary vitamin D and calcium affect the risk.
About the study
The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses' Health Study II, a long-term study of more than 100,000 U.S. registered nurses who were 25 to 42 years old in 1989 when they began answering health questionnaires every two years.
The questionnaires were designed to assess the nurses’ lifestyles, behaviors and overall health. Questions about diet were asked five times over 20 years. Researchers followed the participants until 2011, by which time 2,041 women experienced early menopause.
The women who consumed the most vitamin D from food had a 17 percent lower risk of having early menopause as compared to women who consumed the least. The researchers found this association only with dairy sources of vitamin D, like milk, not with non-dairy sources like oily fish.
Women who consumed the most calcium from food were also about 13 percent less likely to experience early menopause compared to women who consumed the least calcium, and once again, only dairy foods seemed to provide a benefit.
The next step for the researchers is to look at individual dairy foods to see if there's something else going on with dairy itself.
Where to get calcium, vitamin D
The top 10 food sources of calcium are yogurt, cheese, sardines, calcium-fortified soy and other plant beverages, salmon, calcium fortified ready-to-eat cereal, beet greens, collard greens, rapini and bok choy.
The top 10 sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, swordfish (high in mercury), salmon, tuna, vitamin D fortified orange juice, vitamin D-fortified milk, vitamin D-fortified yogurt, fortified margarine, sardines and liver.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services.
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