A new study has revealed that there may be a link between calcium supplements and dementia risk. This was published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology.
It reported that women who take calcium supplements are at a higher risk of developing dementia.
This especially applies if they suffered from cerebrovascular diseases.
These are conditions that are a result of problems that affect the supply of blood to the brain. Stroke, vascular dementia, subarachnoid haemorrhage, and transient ischemic attack are some of the common cerebrovascular diseases.
The reality of the study results, however, are not certain. The study was conducted on a small size sample compromising of only 98 women. But it is the beginning.
So far, no one yet did a similar study on men. It’s women who are more prevalent in taking the supplements in the first place.
Additionally, the study only focused on women from Sweden.
The entire study observed 700 Swedish women all who were 70 years and above. All the participants did not have dementia. Also, not all were taking calcium supplements.
During the onset of the study, all the women took tests to measure their thinking skills and memory.
They then repeated the process at the end of the study. More than half of the participants also underwent CT brain scans at the beginning of the research.
71% of this group had lesions in the white matter which is one of the markers for cerebrovascular disease.
Lesions in white matter tissue show evidence of a mini-stroke or other problems that are affecting the flow of blood within the brain. The researchers then committed to monitoring the use of calcium supplements among the participants.
Women taking calcium supplements are at higher risk of developing dementia
From this group, only 98 were taking calcium supplements. 14.3% of these women who were taking supplements developed dementia after just five years.
Comparing this to 7.5% of ladies who did not get the neurodegenerative disease, researchers concluded that taking calcium supplements increases the risk of developing dementia up to seven times after considering all other factors.
The risk of dementia was also recorded at three times higher in the ladies who took calcium supplements and had white matter brain lesions.
Many women who are older than 40 often take calcium supplements to treat osteoporosis. It is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak.
Further analysis from the Swedish study on calcium supplements and dementia risk revealed that the raised risk only affected ladies who already experienced a stroke. This also applies to the women who had signs of blood vessel damage in their brains after a scan.
Note that these results were only based on 6 out of 15 women who had a history of stroke and 50 of 316 females who had blood vessel damage and were taking calcium supplements.
Experts on the study acknowledged that the study was relatively small and that it was an observational study whose findings needed to be confirmed.
They did not advocate for an immediate call of action based on their results.
Instead, Dr. Silke Kern who was part of the study said that ladies with osteoporosis and cerebrovascular diseases should discuss the results of the research with their doctors because the study does not prove causality.
The study was done by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden in collaboration with other experts from University College London.
Different organizations provided grants for the study including the Swedish Research Council.
Why Calcium Supplements can Increase the Risk of Dementia
The study did not explain the exact relationship between calcium supplements and dementia. Kern says that calcium plays an essential role in the death of cells.
She explained that high calcium levels in the blood might trigger the death of neurons. Too much calcium can also affect blood vessels in the brain.
An associate professor of neurological science and director of research for Rush Heart Centre for Women Dr. Neelum Aggarwal said that calcium can affect brain chemistry which can cause degeneration of brain cells.
The doctor, however, cautioned against blaming the calcium supplements for the increased risk of dementia.
Implications of the Study
If the results of the Swedish study on calcium supplements and dementia are anything to go by, it would be wise for people to look for other ways of getting the mineral.
This includes eating foods like green leafy vegetables, dairy products, nuts, sesame seeds, tofu, soya beans, fish like pilchards and sardines where you eat the bones, and bread or anything made with fortified flour.
If you feel like you need a higher dosage of calcium, consult a specialist first before taking supplements.
Kern told, the findings only applied to calcium from supplements and not from food sources because they affect the brain in different ways.
The results of the study cannot be generalized for the entire population since it followed a small sample size.
However, if a person suffers from low levels of calcium and they are not getting the required dose from the diet, it is recommended you speak to your doctor who will offer guidance on whether the supplements are the way to go.
More research still needs to be done to confirm whether calcium supplements accelerate or cause the development of dementia.