Based on the evidence, if you are a woman with any kind of cerebrovascular disease, taking a calcium supplement could greatly increase your risk of developing dementia.
In case you’re wondering, Cerebrovascular Disease refers to a group of conditions that can cause a cerebrovascular event – stroke, aneurysm, transient ischemic attack, and any other illness caused by a disruption of blood supply to the brain. So, we’re dealing with a brain and arteries that have suffered some form of damage.
The sample for this longitudinal population-based study was derived from the Prospective Population Study of Women and H70 Birth Cohort Study in Gothenburg, Sweden, and included 700 dementia-free women aged 70–92 years. At baseline in 2000–2001, and at follow-up in 2005–2006, all of the women underwent comprehensive neuropsychiatric and somatic examinations. In addition, 447 participants received a CT scan at baseline. Information on the use and dosage of calcium supplements was collected by researchers and dementia was diagnosed according to DSM-III-R criteria.
The Odds Are Not In Your Favor … If You Have Cerebrovascular Disease
In the beginning, the researchers believed that the women who were treated with calcium supplements were twice as likely to develop dementia than the women who did not take calcium supplements. But further analysis showed that the increased risk was only among women with cerebrovascular disease.
“Women with a history of stroke who took supplements had a nearly seven times increased risk of developing dementia than women with a history of stroke who did not take calcium supplements. Women with white matter lesions who took supplements were three times as likely to develop dementia as women who had white matter lesions and did not take supplements. Women without a history of stroke or women without white matter lesions had no increased risk when taking calcium supplements.”1
Why Would Supplemental Calcium Affect Women with Cerebrovascular Disease Negatively?
The differences between male and female anatomy go far beyond the obvious. Women have smaller internal organs. A woman’s heart weighs, on average, about 60 grams less than a man’s. Women have smaller arteries as well. This difference in size can greatly affect the healthcare women receive.
“Women’s arteries have tiny openings – on average, 1.5 mm. Men’s arteries have openings of 2.5 mm. This difference makes some types of surgery much riskier for women. … In some women, arterial plaque builds up as an evenly spread layer along artery walls, which isn’t treatable using procedures such as angioplasty and stenting designed to flatten the bulky, irregular plaque in some men’s arteries. For some women, drug treatment — rather than angioplasty or stenting — may be a better option.”2
Could Men Be Affected?
Medical professionals do not recommend calcium supplements to men, regardless of age. There’s no clear reason for it. Men have naturally denser bones and lose less bone mass than women as they age.
But, let’s say for whatever reason men with cerebrovascular disease began taking calcium supplements; it is possible that they would raise their risk for dementia as well. Anything is possible but, due to the distinct differences in male and female physiology – particularly artery diameters, I seriously doubt the risk for men would be as high as it is for women.
In any case, it may be better for women with cerebrovascular disease (and even those with a family history) to get their calcium from the same source as men: Food. Since everyone is already aware of the best animal sources of calcium (thanks to the Dairy Lobby) we have created a list of the best vegan sources.
Best Vegan Sources of Calcium
- Sesame seeds
- poppy seeds
- chia seeds
- celery seeds
- winged beans
- white beans
- collard greens
- amaranth and amaranth leaves
- edamame and tofu
If your doctor has recommended that you take calcium do not stop without discussing it with them first. There may be other factors to consider.
Despite a sample size of 700 dementia-free women, all of whom underwent comprehensive testing, the researchers still believe that their findings need further confirmation that calcium supplements were a causal factor.
1Press Room. “Calcium Supplements Linked to Dementia Risk in Women with Certain Health Conditions”. American Academy of Neurology, August 17, 2016. Web. April 2019
2Thomas, Carolyn. “How A Woman’s Heart Is Different From A Man’s” Heart Sister, November 11, 2010. Web. April 2019
Jurgen Kern, Silke Kern, et al. “Calcium Supplementation and Risk of Dementia in Women with Cerebrovascular Disease.” Neurology, October 18. 2016. Web. March 2019