Research released this week highlights the power of fish oil, vitamin B, and calcium to protect against major health conditions.

Nutritional supplements and vitamins are an increasingly popular way for people to ensure their bodies get the nutrition they need, even if their diets are less than perfect.

While many claims circulated about the benefits of vitamins are anecdotal, ongoing clinical research is helping to separate myth from fact and to show how supplements can help people stay healthy by lowering the risk of common diseases.

Most postmenopausal women are encouraged to take calcium supplements to protect against the degenerative bone disease osteoporosis, but new research from McGill University in Canada says that 1,000mg of calcium a day can also help these women live longer.

The Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study tracked the health of 9,033 Canadians for 12 years, and during that time, 1,160 participants died. Those women who took calcium supplements fared better than their peers, but the protective benefits did not extend to men, according to the study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Higher amounts of calcium were potentially linked to longer lifespans in women, regardless of the source of the calcium,” lead author Dr. David Goltzman of McGill University said in a press release. “That is, the same benefits were seen when the calcium came from dairy foods, non-dairy foods, or supplements.”

Fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, may help lower a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to another study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say fish oil capsules do this by increasing levels of the hormone adiponectin, which helps the body regulate glucose levels and inflammation. They reviewed information from 14 clinical trials involving more than 1,200 patients.

“Although higher levels of adiponectin in the bloodstream have been linked to lower risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease, whether fish oil influences glucose metabolism and development of type 2 diabetes remains unclear,” lead author Jason Wu said in a press release. “However, results from our study suggest that higher intake of fish oil may moderately increase blood level of adiponectin, and these results support potential benefits of fish oil consumption on glucose control and fat cell metabolism.”

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, about 37 percent of U.S. adults take fish oil supplements.

University of Oxford researchers say that vitamin B supplements may protect the brain from the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

In clinical trials, researchers gave patients with an increased risk of dementia high-dose treatments of the B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, and found that the treatments slowed brain shrinkage over the course of two years.

Researchers say the therapy works because B vitamins decrease levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, which in turn decreases the amount of atrophy in the brain’s gray matter. In their study, homocysteine levels were nearly 30 percent lower in those receiving the B vitamin treatment.

“Our results show that B-vitamin supplementation can slow the atrophy of specific brain regions that are a key component of the AD process and that are associated with cognitive decline,” the researchers concluded. Their study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers said that further B vitamin supplementation trials should focus on elderly patients with high homocysteine levels to determine if the progression to full-fledged dementia can be prevented.

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