A vitamin D supplement plus calcium may be a more effective way for older women to lower their blood pressure than taking calcium alone, German researchers report this week. Dr. Helmut W. Minne and colleagues from the Institute of Clinical Osteology Gustav Pommer in Hamburg, Germany studied 148 women of at least 70 years old. Those who took calcium and vitamin D reduced their systolic blood pressure, lowered their heart rates and reduced levels of parathyroid hormone more than women who were treated with calcium alone. "A short-term supplementation with vitamin D and calcium is more effective in reducing...blood pressure than calcium alone," the researchers wrote in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. In the study, about half of the group women was treated with 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium plus 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, and about half took only 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Women over 70 years should consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily and 600 IU (15 micrograms) of vitamin D daily, according to government guidelines. After 8 weeks, 81 per cent of women taking both nutrients reduced their systolic blood pressure by at least 5 mm/Hg, compared with 47 per cent of women taking only calcium. Systolic pressure, the top number in a blood pressure reading, measures pressure when the heart contracts. 51 per cent of women who took calcium and vitamin D experienced a decrease in heart rate by at least 5 beats per minute, compared with 18 per cent of those treated with calcium alone, the report indicates. The researchers explain that vitamin D is used by the parathyroid glands, four pea-sized structures that sit on the thyroid gland in the neck. These glands secrete a hormone that regulates the body's calcium levels. Calcium, in turn, helps to regulate blood pressure. Source: ReutersHealthand Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2001;86:1633-1637.