These areas of damage could increase the risk of cognitive impairment, dementia, depression and stroke, say the researchers.
For the study, 79 men and 153 women aged 60–86 years completed a food frequency questionnaire to determine calcium and vitamin D intake. Forty-one per cent of the participants had a diagnosis of depression.
The researchers took MRI scans of each participant’s brain to identify and calculate the volume of any lesions.
All participants had some form of brain lesion, with volumes ranging from 0.7–61.8ml.
Calcium and vitamin D intake was significantly and positively correlated with brain lesion volume, delegates were told at the Experimental Biology conference in Washington this week.
These positive associations remained significant after multivariate analysis involving age, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and any known depression.
Lead researcher Dr Martha Payne, from the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke University in North Carolina, said: ‘Since this was a cross-sectional study, we weren’t able to assess risk.
‘We did find that individuals with higher intakes tended to have greater lesion volume.’
Previously, the team has found that people who eat a lot of dairy products had more brain lesions than those with equivalent fat intakes from other sources.
As calcium and vitamin D are found in dairy foods, these nutrients may be behind the link.
Vascular calcification may be occurring in those with high intake of calcium, and vitamin D may further enhance calcification, suggest the researchers.
‘If there is damage to blood vessels of the brain, then lesions may result,’ explained Dr Payne. ‘In addition, calcium may have direct effects on nerve cells.’
This could have ramifications for recommendations to have high calcium and vitamin D intake to protect against osteoporosis in the elderly, she added.
‘A longitudinal study is needed in order to determine if high intakes of calcium and vitamin D promote calcification and brain lesions in elderly people.’
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