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Dementia Risk Is Higher For Older Women Taking Calcium Supplements

First Posted: Aug 18, 2016 05:45 AM EDT
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Calcium supplements commonly recommended to ward off age-related bone damage may face an increased risk of developing dementia in older women.
(Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

As you get older, you take it upon yourself to make sure you get the optimum amount of nutrients your body need. However, that may not always be the case. A recent study show that older women who take calcium supplement to avoid age-related bone disease, may be at risk of developing dementia.

Science Daily reported that a new study has revealed that calcium supplements may be linked with an increased risk of dementia in older women who had suffered from stroke or other signs of cerebrovascular disease. "Osteoporosis is a common problem in the elderly. Because calcium deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, daily calcium intake of 1000 to 1200 mg is recommended. Getting this recommended amount through diet alone can be difficult, so calcium supplements are widely used," said study author Silke Kern, MD, PhD with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. "Recently, however, the use of supplements and their effect on health has been questioned."

According to Reuters, Kern said that their study, published in an online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology aims to show the relationship between calcium supplementation and the increased risk for dementia in older women. It involved 700 women between the ages 70 and 92 without dementia which were followed for 5 years. These participants underwent a variety of test in the beginning and end of the study which included tests of memory and thinking skills. A brain scan was also performed in 447 participants when the study began.

The researchers found that 54 women had already suffered a stroke, and 98 women were taking calcium supplement at the start of the study. It was also found that among the women who underwent brain scans before the study started, 71 percent had lesions on their brains' white matter which can affect blood flow in the brain. These lesions are usually found in older adults. A study once estimated that about 50 to 98 percent of elderly adults have brain lesions.

During the study, 54 more women suffered a stroke and 59 women developed dementia. Researchers concluded that women who took calcium supplements were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to other women their age that didn't. However, the increased risk was only seen to those people who had a stroke and other signs of an existing cerebrovascular disease. In women with a history of stroke, researchers found that the dementia risk was almost seven times higher if they took calcium supplements.

The researchers are still unsure why the use of calcium supplements may be linked to a higher risk of dementia in women with these conditions. "The mechanism for the harmful effect of calcium supplementation is not fully understood," Kern told Live Science. But, it may also be that calcium supplements affect blood vessels and may possibly even alter the flow of blood in these vessels, Kern said. Previous research has linked problems with blood vessels to a greater risk of dementia.

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