Mineral Magic: Calcium and Cancer Prevention

Healthnotes Newswire (April 9, 2009)—Most people have heard that calcium is important for strong bones. Less well known is the mineral’s cancer-fighting reputation. Now, one of the largest studies on this topic to date has confirmed calcium’s standing as a mineral that might help prevent cancer.

The latest results on the calcium-cancer connection come out of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP Diet and Health Study. Researchers collected diet information from 492,810 men and women, ages 50 to 71, and analyzed how the following related to cancer risk:

• Total calcium from diet and supplements

• Dietary calcium, not including calcium supplements

• Calcium supplements, not including dietary sources

• Dairy foods

Calcium counts: how much is enough?

After following the study participants for about seven years, the researchers discovered that women getting 1,300 mg of total calcium daily reduced their risk of all cancers combined by 7% compared with women getting less than approximately 200 mg per day. There was no association between total calcium intake and total cancer risk in men.

For both men and women, calcium especially proved its worth for preventing cancers of the digestive system, including cancers of the stomach, colon, and rectum:

• Men getting at least 1,530 mg of calcium per day had 16% lower risk of digestive system cancers compared with men getting less than 526 mg of calcium daily.

• Women getting at least 1,881 mg of calcium per day had 23% lower risk of digestive system cancers compared with women getting less than 494 mg of calcium daily.

For men, higher intake of dairy foods reduced risk of head and neck, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, and bladder cancers. Higher intakes of total, dietary, and supplemental calcium reduced colorectal cancer risk in men as well. For women, higher intake of dairy foods, and higher intake of dietary, supplemental, and total calcium each reduced colorectal cancer risk independently.

The researchers noted that only one form of calcium—that from dairy foods—was associated with increases in the risk of certain cancers. In men, more servings of dairy increased prostate cancer risk. In women, more dairy increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dairy was not associated with increases in the risk of any other cancer types and no other form of calcium increased risk of any cancers.

Beyond dairy

Most people assume that dairy is the only good source of calcium but other foods can help you meet your calcium needs as well. Use the following tips to reach your daily calcium quotient.

Dive into a serving of green leafy vegetables. A single cup of cooked collard greens provides one-third of your daily calcium needs.

Choose calcium-fortified cereals, many of which provide nearly an entire day’s worth of calcium in one serving.

Try calcium-fortified orange juice or fortified soy, rice, almond, oat, or hemp milk.

Warm up to a bowl of chili. One cup of beans will meet up to 20% of your calcium needs.

Get your daily dose of D. Vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption, is found in fatty fish, such as salmon, and fortified cereals, orange juice, and soy milk.

(Arch Intern Med 2009;169:391-401)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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