Research has raised questions about the association between calcium supplementation and an increased risk of dementia in older women. The study, published in the journal Neurology, included data from 700 women, ages 70 to 92, who participated in the Prospective Population Study of Women and the H70 Birth Cohort Study. The women were dementia-free and most underwent a CT brain scan upon enrollment. They were then monitored, using neuropsychiatric and physical tests, for five years between 2000 and 2006. The researchers found that:
In the 98 participants who were taking calcium supplements, the risk of dementia was more than twice that of participants not taking calcium supplements.
After controlling for other risk factors, the researchers found that the increased risk of dementia was only seen in participants who had white matter lesions, which indicate cerebrovascular disease, or who had a stroke history.
Participants taking calcium supplements who didn’t have these brain lesions or a stroke history didn’t have an increased risk of developing dementia.
If this study causes you to question whether taking calcium supplements is worth it, it’s important to bear a few things in mind. First, this study was observational and therefore doesn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between calcium supplements and stroke-related dementia in people with cerebrovascular disease or a stroke history. Second, calcium is an essential vitamin that plays a prominent role in the management and prevention of osteoporosis—a condition of special concern to older women, who are at a higher risk. So, be sure to bring your calcium supplement questions to your healthcare practitioner, who can help you decide which supplements, if any, you need to stay healthy.