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The FDA allows health claims to be made on foods, but the assertion does have to meet certain criteria. The claims allowed fall into ten different categories based on a relationship between a certain nutrient or food and a risk of a particular disease or health related condition. So a food package can, for instance, say that by being low in saturated fat the food may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dieting and Osteoporosis
It should be common knowledge by now that constant dieting and yo-yo dieting are poor concepts to live by. Importantly, a study by the USDA's agricultural Research Service(ARS) recently (April, 1999) showed that women who ate simply to avoid weight gain had an increased risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition of bone mass loss that eventually results in fractures.

Need to improve your cholesterol profile? Make sure you get enough calcium
One recent study involving weight loss appears to show that high calcium intake, whether in pill or dairy food form, will help reduce blood pressure and improve one's cholesterol profile. So was it the weight loss that did it, or the calcium in the dairy? Scientists at Laval University in Canada designed a study to help make that distinction (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:54-9).


 

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Calcium and Vitamin D - and Breast Cancer



In 1993 and 1995 a total of over 30,000 women over 45 years of age participated in The Women's Health Study, a large-scale, long term study involving thousands of women across the United States. The participants provided medical history, lifestyle factors (such as smoking or exercise), and answered a detailed dietary questionnaire (Arch Intern Med 2007;167(10):1050-1059). Participants reported on over 100 different foods, beverages, and supplement items such as calcium and vitamin D and estimated their average intake over the previous 12 months.

Over 10,000 premenopausal women and over 20,000 postmenopausal women were then recontacted yearly for ten years in order to fill out followup questionnaires. These included questions about whether the participants had been diagnosed with breast cancer. If they had been diagnosed, the researchers performing the study sought permission to analyze their medical records pertaining to their cancer.

For those women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the scientists looked closely at their intake of calcium and vitamin D from all sources, including dairy products, supplements, and other sources. They then related that information to the types of breast cancer each woman had as well as other, more common risk factors for breast cancer.

They found that those premenopausal women who consumed more total calcium and vitamin D had a lower risk of breast cancer, with the greatest effects seen on the risk of the more aggressive types of breast cancers.

On the other hand, calcium and vitamin D did not appear to have any effect on postmenopausal women's risk. The researchers note, however, that it's common for postmenopausal women to not be getting enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

What this means for you

While more research is needed, your take-home message is a reminder that most women aren't getting enough calcium in their diets. (Vitamin D is often packaged with calcium because it helps the calcium be absorbed more readily into the body.) I recommend that all my female patients take a calcium supplement every day to prevent osteoporosis. Now it may help prevent breast cancer, too.

First posted: June 6, 2007