Some side effects of some treatments may go unnoticed, as can be the case with laxatives. A recent study has established a link between frequent use of these drugs and the onset of dementia in later life. The key may lie in our microbiota.

A long term effect. A population study carried out with data from British participants detected a strange pattern: the link between habitual consumption of laxatives and the onset of dementia in the elderly.

After adjusting the statistic for other known risk factors, such as age, sex or other illnesses, the researchers estimated a 51% increase in the risk of dementia among participants who reported using laxatives regularly.

Not always the same. In their study, the research team was able to analyze some factors that modulate this relationship. So, for example, they found that among those who consumed multiple types of laxatives, the risk increased much more than among those who limited themselves to a single type of laxative.


They also found a relative increase in cases among those who used osmotic laxatives. Osmotic laxatives are medications that work by causing water to build up in the colon to soften the stool. It is a type of treatment that is not recommended for regular use, a recommendation that is not always followed.

“Our research found that regular use of over-the-counter laxatives was associated with an increased risk of dementia, especially in people using multiple types of laxatives or osmotic laxatives,” summarized Feng Sha, one of the authors, in a paper. study press release.

Data from half a million people. The study was conducted using data from 502,229 participants in a British database. Of these, 3.6%, or 18,235 people, declared having made regular use of over-the-counter laxatives, understanding as such the use of these on most days in the weeks of the month prior to the questionnaire.

The researchers studied whether or not dementia appeared over a 10-year period following this analysis of laxative use. Details of the study were published in the journal Neurologypublished by the American Academy of Neurology.

Correlation yes, but what is the cause? The authors agree that the study shows a relationship between regular laxative use and the development of dementia later in life, but they are not sure how the causal interconnections behind this correlation work. Anyway, what can be discussed based on the study are laxatives as a risk factor for the onset of dementia.

The authors of the article point out that the intestinal microbiota may have a lot to do with this relationship. It is increasingly clear to scientists that the microbiota of our digestive system affects our health much more. And dementia is one of those diseases whose appearance has been linked to the microbiota.

“Regular use of laxatives can alter the GI microbiome, possibly affecting nerve signaling from the gut to the brain or increasing the production of gut toxins that can affect the brain,” noted Sha.

A step in prevention. The study could help improve our ability to prevent degenerative diseases, diseases that have increased considerably in our societies, mainly due to the increase in life expectancy. Without, moreover, diseases that are very difficult to treat.

Despite this, the recommendation not to abuse laxative medications (or any medication, by the way) is not new. The fact that there is an over-the-counter treatment does not mean that we should forget this precaution.

In the case of laxatives, there are different recommendations to follow before resorting to their consumption, such as increasing the intake of foods rich in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of fluids and maintaining an active lifestyle.

Image | Miriam Alonso