Calcium Supplements Could Increase Dementia Risk in Women

Approximately 14% of women who took calcium supplements developed dementia.

Researchers in a recent study found that calcium supplements may increase dementia risk in older women with cerebrovascular disease.

Cerebrovascular diseases are caused by problems with the blood supply to the brain, and can include conditions such as stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), subarachnoid hemorrhage, and vascular dementia. These diseases also increase the risk of developing dementia, according to a study published by Neurology.

“Osteoporosis is a common problem in the elderly. Because calcium deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, daily calcium intake of 1,000 to 1,200 mg is recommended,” said study author Silke Kern, MD, PhD. “Getting this recommended amount through diet alone can be difficult, so calcium supplements are widely used. Recently, however, the use of supplements and their effect on health has been questioned.”

Researchers included 700 women 70- to 92-years-old in the study. All patients were free from dementia at the baseline.

Patients received memory and thinking skills tests at baseline and the end of the study. There were 447 patients who also received a CT brain scan at baseline.

At the beginning of the study, 98 patients were taking calcium supplements. There were 54 patients who previously experienced a stroke prior to the study, and 54 experienced a stroke during the study.

There were 59 patients who developed dementia during the follow-up. Researchers found that 71% of patients who had CT scans showed lesions in the white matter of their brain, which is a hallmark of cerebrovascular disease, according to the study.

These patients who took the supplement were 3 times as likely to develop dementia compared with patients with lesions, but who did not take the supplement. They discovered that patients who took calcium supplements were twice as likely to develop dementia than patients who did not take calcium supplements.

Researchers noted that the increased risk was in patients with cerebrovascular disease. Patients with a history of stroke and who took calcium supplements were 7 times more likely to develop dementia than patients with no history of stroke who did not take the supplement, according to the study.

Overall, 14% of women who took the supplements developed dementia, compared with 8% who did not. Researchers state that calcium from food works differently than supplements. Calcium from supplements has been suggested to be safe, and could be protective against vascular problems.

They also caution that more studies are needed to confirm their findings before the results can be generalized for the entire population.