Regular Laxative Use May Increase Your Dementia Risk By 50 Percent

Regular Laxative Use May Increase Your Dementia Risk By 50 Percent

Laxatives are one way to help address constipation, an issue that affects about one in six American adults and one in three adults 60 and older. A new study finds that addressing the issue with regular laxative use, though, could impact your brain health.

Research recently published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that regular laxative use was linked with a more than 50% increased risk of developing dementia, compared with people who do not use this treatment. This was especially true for users of osmotic laxatives, which attract water to the colon to soften the stool.

Researchers believe their findings could have to do with gut health.

Dr. Feng Sha, study author from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says, "Constipation and laxative use are common among middle-aged and older adults. 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. Our 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."

Sha adds that osmotic and stimulant laxatives are not meant to be used regularly.

To conduct their research, the team used data from just over half a million people, with an average age of 57, in the UK Biobank database. Among them, 18,235 - or 3.6% - said they regularly used over-the-counter laxatives. The metric for regular use was having taken them most days over the prior month before the study. Over an average follow-up period of 10 years, 218 (1.3%) of these participants developed dementia. Of those who did not use laxatives regularly, however, 1,969 - or 0.4% - developed dementia.

When the researchers adjusted for confounding factors like age, sex, education, other medication use, and a family history of dementia, they found that regular laxative users had a 51% increased risk of developing dementia compared with those who did not regularly use them. The type of laxative was also important, with those only taking osmotic laxatives seeing a 64% increased risk.

The more laxatives taken, the higher the risk, as well, with one type of laxative linked with a 28% increased risk and two or more pushing the heightened risk to 90%.

Though more research is needed, the team says this indicates that people may want to try alternatives to regular laxative use.

Dr. Sha explains, "Finding ways to reduce a person’s risk of dementia by identifying risk factors that can be modified is crucial. More research is needed to further investigate the link our research found between laxatives and dementia. If our findings are confirmed, medical professionals could encourage people to treat constipation by making lifestyle changes such as drinking more water, increasing dietary fiber and adding more activity into their daily lives."

Foods high in fiber that can help with constipation include whole grains, legumes, pears, broccoli, and collard greens.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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