The benefits of vitamin D and oestrogen on the bone health of post-menopausal women have been well-documented in past studies, but could there be more to this combination than previously thought? Apparently so, according to a more recent Chinese study that suggests that this pair could offset the development of metabolic syndrome — a name given to several conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes – in this demographic. The findings were published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Why does this matter?

Metabolic syndrome affects 30 to 60 per cent of post-menopausal women globally, and experts consider it a public health issue.

Heart disease and larger amounts of visceral fat (abdominal fat that surrounds the organs) also tend to be more common as women age, both of which increase the chances of developing metabolic syndrome. These changes are thought to happen to older women because their levels the female hormone, oestrogen, drop after menopause. Because of this, some researchers recommend treatments with oestradiol  (a form of oestrogen) to women who have been menopausal for up to six years, to help prevent heart disease.

Vitamin D has also been found to have favourable effects on indicators of metabolic syndrome like hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar), insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. In fact, supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to lower the risk of metabolic syndrome in the past, during a 20-year follow-up.

Because researchers have known about the positive effects of the oestradiol/vitamin D combination on bone health, they decided to study whether it could also affect metabolic syndrome.

Study & results

Researchers studied a cohort of 616 post-menopausal Chinese women ages 49 and 86 who were not taking supplements for vitamin D/calcium or oestradiol.

They found that among this group, higher vitamin D levels were associated with better lipid profile, blood pressure and blood glucose readings. As for oestradiol, higher levels were associated with lower cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure readings.

Commenting on the study, NAMS executive director, Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, says that this research shows that vitamin D deficient women with low oestradiol levels have are at a higher risk for metabolic syndrome.

Nevertheless, it’s still too early to say that supplementing with oestradiol and vitamin D will definitely have protective effects against this condition because more data is needed. But, Dr Pinkerton still says that post-menopausal women should make sure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. She says: “The Endocrine Society recommends vitamin D levels of 30 ng/mL for post-menopausal women.”

Written by Tesneem Ayoub

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