Regular Calcium Supplementation Linked to Dementia in Some Women

Calcium supplements may seem to be a safe and effective method to manage osteoporosis, but regular consumption of these pills could increase the risk of dementia in women, specifically those who have experienced cerebrovascular diseases or poor blood flow to the brain, or have suffered a stroke.

Calcium supplements may seem to be a safe and effective method to manage osteoporosis, but regular consumption of these pills could increase the risk of dementia in women, specifically those who have experienced cerebrovascular diseases or poor blood flow to the brain, or have suffered a stroke.

Osteoporosis is quite common in the elderly, leading physicians to typically recommend daily calcium intake of 1,000 to 1,200 mg. According to Silke Kern, MD, PhD, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, “Getting this recommended amount through diet alone can be difficult, so calcium supplements are widely used.” However, recently, physicians have begun to question the effect these supplements have on other areas of health.

Research published in Neurology, assessed the relationship between calcium supplements and dementia development in women. The study included 700 women without dementia between the ages of 70 and 92. During a five-year period, the participants were required to complete tests assessing memory and thinking skills. A CT brain scan was also conducted on 447 participants at the beginning of the study.

Researchers noted 98 women were taking calcium supplements at the start of the study and 54 had also experienced a stroke. During the course of the study, they found:

· 54 more women suffered strokes

· 59 women developed dementia

· Among the CT scan group, 71% had lesions on their brains’ white matter — a marker for cerebrovascular disease

Furthermore, women who were treated with calcium supplements were twice as likely to develop dementia as women who did not take supplements. Interestingly, the team noted that the increased risk was only present among women with cerebrovascular disease. Women with a history of stroke who took the calcium supplements had a seven-fold increased risk of developing dementia, higher than even females with history of stroke who did not take the supplements.

After assessing the 98 participants who did take the supplements, the researchers reported that 14 women developed dementia, compared to 45 of 602 women who didn’t consume the supplements.

Kern cautioned this study could not prove a causal relationship between calcium supplements and dementia in women; however, he did surmise calcium is integral in cell death, so higher levels of calcium could trigger early death of neurons and potentially affect the brain’s blood vessels.

While it’s necessary to include more studies in larger and more ethnically diverse populations, the study authors urge physicians to have open dialogue with their patients.

Since osteoporosis is a common condition among older women, this is a conversation worth exploring: the benefits of calcium supplements or perhaps adhering to a more balanced nutritional plan including both calcium supplements and calcium-rich foods.