When you think about how the mineral calcium affects your health, chances are the first thing that pops into your head is how this mighty mineral strengthens your bones.
But if certain researchers have their way, the mention of calcium will soon bring to mind its role in memory loss.
Allow me to explain…
For at least 30 years, researchers have known that folks who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have problems with the regulation of calcium in their brains.1 But exactly how this “dysregulation” of calcium takes place, and the precise role it plays in Alzheimer’s disease, hasn’t been explained.
However, Yale researchers recently found that certain neurons in the brain’s prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain involved in personality, decision-making and intellectual versatility – can start leaking calcium as we age.
The researchers believe this gradual increase in calcium leakage starts very slowly and steadily creates two distinct problems that hamper the function of neurons.
First off, it leads to the formation of what’s called phosphorylated tau proteins, which cause the formation of the tangles in the brain that can harm neurons. (And it’s important to remember that the role of these tangles in Alzheimer’s is in dispute since many people have them who don’t develop Alzheimer’s.)
Calbindin is the Key
The calcium leakage also presents another issue: The aging neurons possess less of a protein called calbindin which protects neurons from the harmful effects of calcium overloads. Younger neurons, in contrast, have a sufficient supply of calbindin to shield them.
“With age, these neurons face a double whammy, with an excessive calcium leak that initiates toxic actions, as well as diminished levels of the protectant, calbindin,” says researcher Amy Arnsten, PhD.
The Yale scientists point out that the neurons in the prefrontal cortex need large amounts of calcium to carry out their cognitive tasks and the regulation of the calcium in these cells has to be carefully controlled. When it starts spilling out, the researchers say, the neurons “eat” themselves from within.
What this means is that the uncontrolled calcium leads to cellular signals from the neurons that weaken their ability to pass on messages to each other, trigger inflammation, harm their mitochondria (which supply energy to the neurons) and shrink their dendrites – the filaments that receive signals from other neurons.2,3
In light of these findings, Professor Arnsten believes that focusing on these calcium issues could lead to ways to prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease and other types of memory problems. But it’s only the beginning…
Another issue with calcium in the brain has to do with blood flow and memory. According to a study in Sweden, when postmenopausal women who have had a stroke, or other health problems linked to disruption of the brain’s blood supply, take calcium supplements then they are at higher risk of memory loss.
In this research, Swedish scientists studied women between the ages of 70 and 92 who had experienced one or more strokes and were taking calcium. They found that these women were seven times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia compared to those women who had a history of stroke but did not take calcium supplements.
The study also showed that women with white matter lesions in their brains who took calcium were three times more likely to develop dementia. (White matter lesions represent damage to the fibers that connect different parts of the brain. They can be caused by mild strokes, multiple sclerosis, and aging.)4
Now, this study was not very large, but the researchers caution that if you’ve had a stroke, you probably should avoid calcium supplements.
Calcium Channel Blockers Benefit Brain Function
Research on how calcium affects the brain has also turned up some good news – evidence that taking blood pressure drugs, called calcium channel blockers, may be linked to better memory and a lowered risk of suffering Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
For instance, lab tests at the University of Bristol in England show that by preventing the entrance of excess calcium ions into neurons through what are called L-type channels, these drugs help keep calcium at a normal level within neurons and help with memory formation.5
These tests were performed on fruit flies, which are frequently used in laboratory studies. But according to researcher James Hodge, PhD., “L-type channels have been thought to have a role in Alzheimer’s disease for some time and this study shows a direct link between memory loss and L-type channel overproduction in brain cells.”
Added to that research, a ten-year study in Asia found that seniors taking calcium channel blockers had a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s than folks who were not taking these drugs.6 The study involved more than 80,000 people over the age of 60.
And a review study in India that analyzed the results of other research involving more than 75,000 people came up with similar results. The researchers conclude that the calcium channel blockers in their analysis reduced the risk of dementia by 44 percent.7
My Takeaway: Be Careful with Calcium Supplements
All of this research on calcium illustrates how researchers are closer to a more detailed understanding of what happens in the brain as we age and the roles that calcium plays in those changes.
It also demonstrates that taking calcium supplements can be problematic – particularly for older people. Plus, many experts warn that taking calcium can increase your risk for kidney stones, may put you at higher risk of cardiovascular problems and probably doesn’t do much to improve your bone strength.8
In fact, nutritional research now suggests that the key to bone strength isn’t calcium after all, but vitamins D3 and K2. Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, has developed what is perhaps the most complete muscle and bone health formula available today. It’s called Bone & Muscle Defense and you can read more about it here.
Meanwhile, if you’re beyond middle age and think you need more calcium, you’re better off getting it from food. An ample supply can be obtained from foods such as dairy products, figs, leafy vegetables, almonds, oranges, and beans.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29452176/#:~:text=The use of CCBs was,to those not