People who regularly use laxatives to treat constipation may be at a higher risk of developing dementia later on, according to new research.

A new study published in the American Academy of Neurology’s medical journal Neurology found that laxative users are more than 50% at risk of developing dementia than non-users.

Stimulant and osmotic laxatives are not encouraged for regular use. However, many people use them regularly to prevent or treat constipation.

Based on the study, those who use osmotic laxatives — the type that attracts water to the colon to soften stool — displayed an even higher risk of developing dementia.

The prospective cohort study utilized data from 502,229 UK Biobank participants aged 40 to 69 without a history of dementia. The team determined their dementia risk based on their laxative use.

“Multivariable analyses showed that regular use of laxatives was associated with increased risk of all-cause dementia. … The risk of both all-cause dementia and vascular dementia increased with the number of regularly used laxative types,” the authors wrote.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, medication use, education, illnesses and family history, researchers found that regular laxative users had a 51% increased risk of developing dementia than people who did not regularly take laxatives.

Variations in laxatives also significantly increased the risk. For those using only one type of laxative, the reported risk was 28%. But for those using two or more types of laxatives, the risk was a whopping 90%.

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

"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 added.

However, the study has some limitations. First, dosage information was not considered, so the team could not evaluate the relationship between laxative dosage and dementia risk. Second, the study did not prove that laxatives cause dementia; it only showed an association.

Still, Sha was hopeful their findings could help reduce dementia risk among people. Now that there is a link between laxative use and dementia, further research is needed to better establish and understand their relationship.

“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,” Sha said.

Dr. Richard Isaacson, a preventative neurologist at the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases of Florida, reacted to the study, saying the findings may be interesting, but they are only speculative.

“Further study is absolutely warranted to make a definitive impact on clinical practice,” Isaacson, who was not part of the study, told CNN.

Our stomachs play a large role in determining our immune health and mental health, especially when we're infants. Photo courtesy of