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Laxative Use Linked to Higher Risk of Dementia

Research involving over 500,000 people found that regular laxative use was associated with a 51% increased risk of all-cause and vascular dementia.

Laxatives are a commonly used over-the-counter remedy for constipation. However, new research found that people who used laxatives, especially one particular type, may be at higher risk of developing dementia.

The study, published on February 22 in the journal Neurology, examined 502,229 dementia-free participants from the United Kingdom Biobank with an average age of 56.5 years. Of the participants, 18,235 reported using laxatives on most days of the week.

After an average follow-up period of nearly 10 years, 1.3% of participants who reported regular laxative use and 0.4% of those who did not use laxatives developed dementia — indicating that people who used laxatives regularly had a 51% increased dementia risk.

Further analysis showed that regular use of laxatives was linked to an increased risk of all-cause and vascular dementia but not Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s more, the risk of all-cause and vascular dementia increased with the number of laxative types the participants used. For example, for people using one type of laxative, their risk of dementia increased by 28%, while those who reported using two or more types had a 90% increased dementia risk.

In addition, osmotic laxatives were associated with the highest risk of dementia compared to bulk-forming, stool-softening, and stimulating laxatives.

However, the scientists did not have data on the participant’s laxative dosages, so they couldn’t determine associations between dosage levels and dementia. Moreover, the study only found an association between laxative use and dementia and did not prove the medications cause cognitive decline.

In a news release, study author Feng Sha, Ph.D., of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangdong, China, explains, "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."

"More research is needed to further investigate the link our research found between laxatives and dementia," Sha says. "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."

Aside from over-the-counter laxatives, natural stool softeners and certain foods can also help relieve constipation. However, if constipation interferes with daily life or becomes concerning, it’s best to visit a healthcare provider to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions that may be causing it.

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