Laxatives are a type of medicine that can help you empty your bowels if you’re having trouble going to the toilet.
They’re widely used to treat constipation if lifestyle changes, such as increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, drinking plenty of fluid and taking regular exercise, haven’t helped.
But in a study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, scientists found people who regularly use laxatives may have more than a 50% increased risk of developing dementia over people who do not use laxatives.
They tested 502,229 people in the UK biobank database with an average age of 57 who did not have dementia at the start of the study.
Of this group, 18,235 people, or 3.6%, reported regularly using over-the-counter laxatives. Regular use was defined as using a laxative most days of the week during the month before the study.
Over an average of 10 years, 218 of those who regularly used laxatives, or 1.3%, developed dementia. Of those who did not regularly use laxatives, 1,969 people, or 0.4%, developed dementia.
After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, education, other illnesses and medication use, and a family history of dementia, researchers found people who regularly used laxatives had a 51% increased risk of overall dementia compared to people who did not regularly use laxatives.
They also found that people who used only osmotic laxatives, a type of laxative that attracts water to the colon to soften stool, had an even greater risk.
Other types of laxatives are bulk-forming, stool-softening, and stimulating. However, the study does not prove that laxatives cause dementia. It only shows an association.
The team says constipation and laxative use are common among middle-aged and older people.
However, regular laxative use may change the microbiome of the gut, possibly affecting nerve signaling from the gut to the brain or increasing the production of intestinal toxins that may affect the brain.
The research found regular use of over-the-counter laxatives was associated with a higher risk of dementia, particularly in people who used multiple laxative types or osmotic laxatives.
The team noted that osmotic and stimulant laxatives are not recommended for regular use, yet some people use them regularly.
If you care about dementia, please read studies that your walking speed may tell your risk of dementia, and these high blood pressure drugs could prevent dementia.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that high-fiber diet could help lower the dementia risk, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by Feng Sha et al and published in Neurology.
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