October 19, 2012, the British Medical Journal reported the finding of researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital of a protective effect for calcium from diet and supplements against primary hyperparathyroidism, a condition in which overactive parathyroid glands secrete too much parathyroid hormone, which can result in bone weakness and fractures.
The current study evaluated data from 58,354 nurses who were between the ages of 39 and 66 years upon enrollment in the Nurses' Health Study I in 1986. Responses to dietary questionnaires completed after enrollment were evaluated for the intake of calcium from diet and supplements. Over a 22 year follow-up period, 277 cases of primary hyperparathyroidism were diagnosed.
Women whose dietary calcium was among the top one-fifth of participants had a 44 percent lower adjusted risk of developing primary hyperparathyroidism compared to those whose intake was among the lowest fifth. When the intake of calcium from supplements containing more than 500 milligrams per day was analyzed, the risk of primary hyperparathyroidism was 31 percent less among those who supplemented in comparison with those who did not use calcium supplements.
"To our knowledge, we report results from the first prospective study of the relation between calcium intake and risk of primary hyperparathyroidism," Julie M. Paik and her colleagues announced. "In women, increased dietary and supplemental calcium intake was associated with a reduced risk for developing primary hyperparathyroidism, independent of age, body size, diet, and other factors."
In an accompanying commentary, James Norman of the Norman Parathyroid Center concludes that "Paik and colleagues' study provides evidence to support physicians in confidently encouraging female patients to take calcium supplements. Daily calcium supplements in modest doses are likely to provide more benefits than risks given that even mild primary hyperparathyroidism has important clinical associations and, over many years, even a moderate increase in calcium concentration probably helps reduce the incidence of parathyroid tumors."
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