Calcium Supplements May Be Associated with an Increased Risk for Dementia, Study Finds

Researchers reported an associated risk between calcium supplementation and the development of dementia in women with cerebrovascular disease. But the study authors and independent experts said the five-year population-based study sample was too small and the findings are premature and need to be replicated in a larger study.

Calcium supplements may raise the risk of dementia in elderly women with cerebrovascular disease, according to a five-year Swedish study reported in the August 17 online edition of Neurology.

Stroke and white matter lesions, which often co-exist, are already known markers of generalized cerebrovascular disease with different types of vessel pathology, the authors of the population-based study said. But while earlier studies have demonstrated that cerebrovascular disease can heighten the risk of dementia, calcium supplementation appears to augment this risk, the study authors said.

However, they cautioned that confirmation of these results would be advisable due to the relatively small patient sample and the observational methodology of the study.

The researchers noted that the small sample size “led to a low statistical power in some of the subgroups; for example, the number of individuals with pure VaD (vascular dementia) was too small for separate analyses, which required us to merge this group with that of mixed dementia. However, both these entities had a history of stroke and are expected to share the same vulnerability to calcium supplements,” they wrote.

“Our findings need to be replicated before any recommendations can be made,” Silke Kern, MD, PhD, principal co-author and consulting neurologist at the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden, told Neurology Today. “Meanwhile, women with cerebrovascular disease can discuss this new information with their clinicians and assess the risks versus the benefits.”

Several neuroepidemiologists who were not involved with the study praised the authors for attempting to study this association, but they noted that the overall sample of the study was small, limiting the significance of the results.

The small size of the final group could cause instability of the results, said Walter A. Kukull, PhD, professor of epidemiology and director of the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle.

He added that “the ‘yes or no’ outcome — for the development of dementia syndrome — does not recognize well the slope of cognitive decline leading to the dementia diagnosis. Nonetheless, this is an important study primarily for the clues it may be giving us about the association between [calcium supplement] exposure and vascular disease.”

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