Widely used constipation drug may increase risk of dementia

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Laxatives are a type of medicine that can help people empty their bowels if they’re having trouble going to the toilet.

They’re commonly used to treat constipation when lifestyle changes, such as eating more fiber, drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly, haven’t worked.

However, a study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that people who regularly use laxatives may have more than a 50% increased risk of developing dementia compared to those who don’t use laxatives.

The study involved 502,229 people in the UK biobank database 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 that people who regularly used laxatives had a 51% increased risk of overall dementia compared to those who did not regularly use laxatives.

Researchers 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 include bulk-forming, stool-softening, and stimulating.

It’s important to note that the study only shows an association between laxative use and dementia, and does not prove that laxatives cause dementia.

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 team notes that constipation and laxative use are common among middle-aged and older people.

However, 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 also noted that osmotic and stimulant laxatives are not recommended for regular use, yet some people use them regularly.

How to prevent dementia

While there is no guaranteed way to completely prevent dementia, there are some lifestyle changes that can help to reduce the risk of developing the condition. Here are some steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of dementia:

Stay mentally and socially active: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, puzzles, and socializing, can help to keep the brain active and reduce the risk of dementia.

Exercise regularly: Regular physical exercise has been shown to be beneficial for brain health and may help to reduce the risk of dementia.

Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help to reduce the risk of dementia. A Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods, fish, and healthy fats, has been shown to be particularly beneficial.

Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can increase the risk of dementia. Managing these conditions through medication, lifestyle changes, or both, can help to reduce the risk.

Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for overall brain health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Reduce stress: Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Finding ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, meditation, or therapy, can help to reduce the risk.

Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use: Smoking and excessive alcohol use have both been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption can help to reduce the risk.

By incorporating these lifestyle changes into their daily routine, individuals can help to reduce their risk of developing dementia.

It’s important to remember that while these steps may not completely eliminate the risk, they can help to improve overall brain health and reduce the risk of developing dementia.

If you care about dementia, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and flavonoid-rich foods could help prevent dementia.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, 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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