Lead study author David Goltzman, MD, director of the Calcium Research Laboratory at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, says they didn’t find a similar benefit for men taking 1,000 mg daily, although it’s unclear if that’s due to biological differences or that there simply weren’t enough men in the study to make a determination. Additionally, the researchers found no evidence that vitamin D intake affected mortality.

As for the link between cardiovascular risk and calcium: “We just didn’t find that,” Dr. Goltzman says. “I would not use excessive amounts and I would try to get it out of dietary consumption as a first method of choice. But I wouldn’t worry it will kill me.”

Virginia A. Moyer, MD, says the findings are interesting, but doesn’t believe they should influence patients to change their intake, since this was an observational study and not a randomized controlled trial. Dr. Moyer is chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent, volunteer panel of national experts that evaluates the risks and benefits of preventive therapies in primary care.

In February, the USPSTF issued recommendations on the use of calcium supplements to prevent fractures.  The group warned against postmenopausal women taking a daily calcium supplement of 1,000 mg or less (along with 400 IU of vitamin D or less), saying there is a “moderate to high certainty” of no benefit in preventing fractures and a risk of potential harm from kidney stones. And they found that there was not enough evidence to support the use of calcium at higher doses.  Her group also looked at mortality in relation to calcium intake and she says they didn’t find any differences.

Dr. Moyer acknowledges that, although this new study shows women with higher calcium intake had lower death rates, there’s no indication of a causal relationship.

Experts say until there is more consensus in calcium research, patients wanting guidance should discuss the issue with their medical provider.