Study: Calcium Supplements Linked to Dementia Risk in Some Women

Talk to your healthcare provider about whether they are right for you

Study: Calcium Supplements Linked to Dementia Risk in Some Women

Do you take calcium supplements? Many older women take them to ward off osteoporosis and its precursor, osteopenia, because getting the recommended daily intake of 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium through diet alone can be difficult.

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A new study, however, adds to the questions surrounding the safety of calcium supplements for certain groups of women.

The study, by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, found a link between taking calcium supplements and an increased risk of dementia.

The association is primarily in women who have been diagnosed with ischemic cerebrovascular disease, in which blood vessels in the brain become blocked, usually from a clot formed from platelets and cholesterol.

Previous research has suggested calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attack.

White matter lesions

Researchers studied 700 dementia-free women between ages 70 and 92. The researchers followed the women for five years.

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Participants took tests that measured their memory and thinking skills at the beginning and end of the study.

In addition, more than half of the study participants underwent a CT brain scan at the start of the research. Of these women, 71 percent had lesions in the white matter — a marker for cerebrovascular disease — of their brains.

The researchers then monitored the participants’ use of calcium supplements, and whether they received a diagnosis of dementia over the course of the study.

The results showed:

  • Women with a history of stroke who took calcium supplements had nearly seven times the increased risk of developing dementia.
  • Women who took calcium supplements and had white matter disease were three times as likely to develop dementia.
  • Women with no history of stroke or white matter disease had no increased dementia risk when taking calcium supplements.

Talk to your healthcare provider

“This relationship was focused on women with a history of stroke or white matter disease, which is an indicator of some vascular disease in the brain. These women were at an increased risk of having dementia,” neurologist Irene Katzan, MD, MS, says.

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So should you stop taking your calcium supplements? Dr. Katzan says no. “This study alone shouldn’t cause anyone to immediately stop taking their calcium supplements,” she says.

The study was small — meaning results cannot be generalized to everyone — and observational, which means that researchers simply observed behavior and their outcomes in a systematic way. More research is needed to determine if calcium actually causes or accelerates dementia, she says.

However, the research should prompt you to discuss the issue of calcium supplements with your healthcare provider, Dr. Katzan says.

“This is a good time to talk to your doctor about what supplements you should be taking and what is best in your specific instance, given your unique risk factors and individual medical history,” Dr. Katzan says.

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