Harvard Women's Health Watch

Calcium supplementation linked to dementia risk in some women

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Using a calcium supplement has been implicated as a risk factor for heart attack in older women. A team of Swedish researchers sought to determine whether it also increases those women's chance of developing dementia.

The researchers studied the records of 700 women enrolled in either the Prospective Population Study of Women or the H70 Birth Cohort Study in Gothenburg, Sweden. The women ranged in age from 70 to 92 and did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. The researchers noted which women were taking calcium supplements and their supplement dosages.

The women had CT scans and were evaluated for dementia five years into the study. The researchers determined that among those who had evidence of cerebrovascular disease such as white-matter brain damage, taking calcium supplements was associated with three to seven times the risk of developing dementia. Dementia risk was only slightly elevated among supplement users who had no signs of cerebrovascular disease. The results were published online Aug. 17, 2016, by the journal Neurology.

The researchers noted that because the study was observational and not a randomized controlled trial, it could not demonstrate that calcium supplements actually cause dementia. However, their results add to accumulating evidence that taking calcium pills may increase the risk of vascular disease in older women.