Many people take laxatives to deal with constipation, but it may not be a good idea to take them long-term or frequently. New research links regular laxative use (most days of the week) with increased rates of dementia.
The study found that regularly using multiple types of laxatives or only osmotic laxatives had an increased risk of dementia over a ten year follow-up period. Osmotic laxatives (e.g., Miralax, polyethylene glycol, lactulose) draw water into the stool, making the stool softer and easier to pass.
However, using only other types of laxatives (stool softeners, stimulant, or bulk-forming) was not associated with dementia.
Some natural ways to treat constipation: drink more water, eat more fiber rich foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables), exercise or physical activity, drink coffee or tea.
From Science Daily: People who regularly use laxatives may have an increased risk of dementia
People who regularly use laxatives, a common treatment for constipation, may have more than a 50% increased risk of developing dementia than people who do not use laxatives, according to a study published in the February 22, 2023, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers also found 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 are bulk-forming, stool-softening, and stimulating. The study does not prove that laxatives cause dementia. It only shows an association.
Sha noted that osmotic and stimulant laxatives are not recommended for regular use, yet some people use them regularly.
The study involved 502,229 people in the UK biobank database with an average age of 57 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 people who regularly used laxatives had a 51% increased risk of overall dementia compared to people who did not regularly use laxatives.
However, among people using only one type, only those taking osmotic laxatives had a heightened risk, with a 64% increase compared to those who did not use laxatives.