Calcium, good for your bones but bad for your brain?

Researchers have discovered an important interplay between alpha-synuclein and calcium inside cells, insight which could help us develop drugs that slow Parkinson’s. We go behind the headlines to find out more.

Dr Beckie Port
Feb 19, 2018 · 6 min read

The dark side of milk

As one of our main dietary sources of calcium, you might think that topping up your calcium levels with a glass of milk might be a good idea to keep your bones healthy. Milk has an added benefit as it is also high in vitamin D, which helps your bones to absorb calcium. However, large scale studies have suggested that drinking a large cup of milk per day may double your chances of developing Parkinson’s. So what’s going on, is calcium to blame?

Calcium in the brain

We’ve known for some time that too much calcium causes problems for brain cells affected in the condition, inducing stress that leads to damage and eventually cell death. And there is evidence that drugs that block the channels that calcium uses to get into the cells affected by Parkinson’s helps to protect these precious cells. For instance, both apamin, a calcium-channel blocking chemical in bee venom, and isradipine, a calcium-channel blocker approved for treating high blood pressure, have been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s in animal models. And, in people, isradipine use has been linked to a slight reduction in risk of developing the condition.

Calcium and clumps

Previous studies have suggested a link between calcium and a protein called alpha-synuclein, commonly known as the main constituent of the sticky clumps of protein called Lewy bodies that form in cells affected by Parkinson’s. Like calcium, too much alpha-synuclein is also a bad sign for brain cells as we know it can also induce Parkinson’s-like problems in animal models. However, one of the unanswered questions is what the normal function of this protein actually is.

Towards a treatment that slows Parkinson’s

Stopping too much calcium from building up inside the cells may be the answer to reducing the ability of this chemical to cause damage, but there may still be one more obstacle to overcome and it’s all about side effects.



Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk

Dr Beckie Port

Written by

Research Communications Manager at @ParkinsonsUK. Ex-researcher in oncology and virology.

Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk