Study links regular use of constipation drug to higher dementia risk

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A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences has raised concerns over the long-term use of laxatives, commonly turned to as a last resort for relieving constipation.

According to the study, individuals who regularly use laxatives might face a 50% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who do not use these drugs.

The research involved a large sample of 502,229 participants from the UK Biobank database, all initially free of dementia. Of these participants, 3.6% reported using over-the-counter laxatives most days in the month preceding the study.

Over a decade of follow-up, 1.3% of the regular laxative users were diagnosed with dementia, in contrast to just 0.4% of those who did not use laxatives regularly. This translates to a 51% increased risk of dementia in regular laxative users after adjusting for demographic and medical factors.

The study found an even greater risk among those who exclusively used osmotic laxatives, which work by drawing water into the colon to soften stool. Despite these findings, the researchers noted that the relationship between laxative use and dementia is associative, not necessarily causal.

The proposed explanation centers on the gut-brain axis, suggesting that regular use of laxatives could alter the gut microbiome.

This alteration might affect nerve signaling to the brain or increase the production of intestinal toxins that could impact brain health, theoretically influencing the risk of dementia.

Given the lack of a definitive preventive strategy for dementia, the study underscores the importance of lifestyle modifications that may help reduce the risk.

These include maintaining mental and social activity, engaging in regular exercise, following a healthy diet (such as the Mediterranean diet), managing chronic health conditions, ensuring adequate sleep, managing stress, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

This research does not establish causation but highlights a significant association that calls for a cautious approach to the chronic use of laxatives.

It also encourages further exploration into the complex interactions within the gut-brain axis. By understanding and potentially adjusting our body’s internal ecosystems, we might better manage or even reduce the risk of dementia.

This study serves as a reminder of the importance of evaluating the long-term effects of commonly used medications and the potential implications for major health issues such as dementia.

For more information about dementia, please see recent studies about brain food: nourishing your mind to outsmart dementia and results showing that re-evaluating the role of diet in dementia risk.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about the power of healthy fats for brain health and results showing that Mediterranean diet may preserve brain volume in older adults.

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