Even if you have healthy eating habits and a detailed skincare routine, aging is an inevitable part of life we all must come to terms with. As you get older, you may also be thinking about how your memory will be affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly five million U.S. adults over 65 years old had some type of dementia in 2014. These numbers are still increasing, as the agency expects nearly 14 million adults to have a brain impairment by 2060. With cases on the rise, you may have already adjusted your daily habits and upped your vitamin and mineral intake to help lower your risk. But while there are many ways to keep your mind sharp, studies have found that one supplement, in particular, can actually heighten your dementia risk. To find out what this pill is and how it can affect your personal health, read on.
Calcium supplements are linked to an increased risk of dementia in some women.
Although calcium helps maintain physical strength, data shows this supplement can also impact the brain, specifically in women. A 2016 study published in Neurology found that calcium supplementation could be associated with a higher risk of dementia for older women. Researchers examined 700 dementia-free women between the ages of 70 to 92 and living in Sweden, over the course of five years. Participants took many different examinations, including memory assessments and brain CT scans. They were also asked if they were taking calcium supplements.
Out of the 98 women in the study who took calcium supplements, 14 percent of them developed dementia. On the other hand, out of the 602 women who did not take calcium, only 8 percent of them developed dementia. However, results found that certain women had a higher risk of dementia. In fact, women who took calcium and had a cerebrovascular disease—a condition that affects blood flow in the brain—were twice as likely to develop dementia than those who had a cerebrovascular disease and weren't taking calcium.
Women's dementia risk can become seven times higher with a stroke history and calcium supplements.
Researchers further examined how cerebrovascular diseases, like stroke, are connected to women's dementia risk and calcium intake. Findings showed that women who took supplements and had a history of stroke were nearly seven times more likely to develop dementia than women who had a history of a stroke and did not take calcium.
When combined with calcium, strokes weren't the only thing that impacted dementia risk. The study also looked at the women who had white matter lesions, an indicator for cerebrovascular disease, on their brains. Compared to those who didn't have this marker, women with white matter lesions were three times as likely to get dementia.
The study's author, Silke Kern, MD expressed that these results aren't to say that calcium intake is a bad thing. "It is important to note that our study is observational, so we cannot assume that calcium supplements cause dementia," she said in a press release.
Kern's study notes that calcium is still essential for the body. So, on average, your daily calcium intake should consist of 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day.
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For men, calcium intake can increase their risk of cardiovascular disease death.
While men's dementia risk may not be associated with calcium, this supplement can still affect their overall health. In a 2013 study published in the American Medical Association (AMA), researchers set out to discover how calcium supplements were associated with a risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) death. Participants consisted of 388,229 men and women between the age of 50 to 71, who took part in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study from 1995 to 1996. In 1995, they took a 124-item food frequency questionnaire, which documented calcium intake from food and supplements.
After following up with participants nearly 12 years later, the AMA study found 3,974 women and 7,904 men had died due to CVD. Out of those participants who passed, 51 percent of men and 70 percent of women were taking calcium supplements. When looking more closely at each gender, results found that men who took more than 1,000 milligrams a day had an increased risk of CVD death, primarily due to heart disease.
On the opposite side of the coin, CVD death, heart disease death, or cerebrovascular disease were not linked to women's supplemental calcium intake. "Whether there is a sex difference in the cardiovascular effect of calcium supplement warrants further investigation," the study says. "Given the extensive use of calcium supplement in the population, it is of great importance to assess the effect of supplemental calcium use beyond bone health."
Supplements aren't the only way to give your body the calcium it needs.
As part of the AMA's study release, Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, of the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden shared her commentary on the study and noted that more research about calcium supplements and CVD still needs to be done.
And while calcium can be good for your bones, Larsson also emphasized that there are alternatives to supplements, including "low-fat dairy foods, beans, and green leafy vegetables, which contain not only calcium but also a cocktail of essential minerals and vitamins."
"These non-dairy food sources of calcium have the added health benefits and have recently been reported to improve glycemic control in persons with diabetes," she added. "The paradigm 'the more the better' is invalid for calcium supplementation."