Alzheimer’s Disease and Calcium Supplements
It is recommended that men and women between the age of 20 years and 50 years of age should obtain ~1000mg dietary calcium each day, with a daily upper limit of 2000-2500 mg depending on age and sex. Foods containing calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, some small fish such as sardines, as well as fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.
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Calcium supplements can be taken in addition to a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, in order to maintain bone strength, as well as supporting cardiovascular and nervous system health. This is especially useful for people who have an increased risk of conditions such as osteoporosis. Calcium supplements can safely be taken by young to middle-aged people in addition to a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle.
In order for calcium to be effectively absorbed into the bloodstream, the body requires vitamin D. Vitamin D is naturally obtained from sunlight exposure, in addition dietary sources such as salmon and eggs.
Calcium supplements and Alzheimer’s Disease
Despite recommendations, a recent study in Sweden has shown that older women that take regular calcium supplements may actually increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The study looked at 700 women who initially didn’t have dementia. Over a 5 year period, 8% of these women developed dementia. When the data was further segregated, it was observed that dementia developed in 14% and 7% of women who did and did not take calcium supplements, respectively.
It is important to note that the percentage of women who developed dementia was very low. Secondly, the women on calcium supplements who went on to show features of dementia had a history of stroke. Therefore, women without a history of stroke who take calcium supplements are unlikely to have an increased risk of developing dementia.
Furthermore, this study was purely observational and had a relatively small sample size. These findings therefore need to be validated through a larger cohort in a randomized controlled clinical study to make definitive conclusions.
No observations have yet been reported in men. In addition, the study only looked at Swedish women, and therefore may not be representative of women in general. For example, Sweden has less sunshine hours compared to more equatorial locations, suggesting that vitam. There may be ethnic differences or perhaps geographical influences. For example, differences in the total vitamin D levels due to lower daylight exposure may influence calcium absorption.
In summary, calcium is a critical component of daily diet, and is required (1000 mg/day) to support a healthy body. Therefore, ensuring adequate calcium levels are taken is important. The only elevated risk in developing dementia reported so far is in older women who take additional calcium supplements and have a history of stroke. It is recommended that such women not take any calcium supplements, but ensure they also meet their daily requirements.
- Kern et al, 2016. Neurology. 87(16):1674-80.
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Last Updated: Dec 21, 2018
Osman is a Neuroscience PhD Research Student at the University of Sheffield studying the impact of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease on neurovascular coupling using pre-clinical models and neuroimaging techniques.
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