Generally in America it is recommended that post-menopausal women take calcium supplements – up to 1200 mg/day – to prevent the ongoing loss of bone density that naturally occurs with age and changes in hormone status. But questions abound as to whether or not supplements really work or are perhaps detrimental in other areas of well-being.
This study out of Sweden asked 700 women who did not have dementia about their diets including supplements; then five years later, checked in on them again. They even got CT brain scans on many of them.
Their findings showed that “women who were treated with calcium supplements were twice as likely to develop dementia than women who did not take supplements.”
Further analysis determined “that the increased risk was only among women with cerebrovascular disease.”
In other words, if you’ve had a stroke and take calcium supplements you might want to reconsider the offsets: better bones vs better brain function.
Again, deeper analysis of the data revealed some pretty alarming risks for supplement takers. There was a greater risk of dementia after stroke. And for those who had a stroke, if you were taking supplements your risk of dementia was nearly double (14%) compared to those who had a stroke but did not take calcium (8%).
The authors acknowledge that there may (likely) be a different response to consuming calcium-based foods vs taking supplements that may actually be protective of the brain, not just the bones.
What is not covered in this study, or at least in this report, is the role of exercise. As a previous blog post here noted, many studies of late have concluded that a healthy diet and active lifestyle may be protective against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They are also important in reducing your risk of stroke.
Combined – and maybe even combined with eating dairy-based foods (non- or low-sugar) – a healthy, neutral-caloric diet and physically active lifestyle may not only prevent strokes but may also, if this study is backed by more research, reduce your risk of dementia even if you have a stroke.
So, my advice is what you’d expect from a trainer, with one last caveat: eat right, move more, and maybe don’t bother with supplements unless you can’t get certain nutrients elsewhere.