Research Reveals Frequent Antibiotic Use Increases Dementia Risk Among Senior Women

As we age, some decreases in memory and cognitive capabilities can be part of what fairly can be called the natural aging process. However, there are also instances of individuals experiencing more significant memory or cognitive decline that might be associated with dementia, including Alzheimer’s. In some instances, medications and lifestyle choices contribute to the memory of cognitive decline. Indeed, a recent research study has revealed that frequent antibiotic use can increase dementia risk among senior women.

Overview of Frequent Antibiotic Use on Increased Risk of Dementia Among Senior Women

A research study recently published in Plos One detailed that women who frequently took antibiotics during midlife showed faster rates of cognitive decline than those who did not. While antibiotics are prescribed to fight infections caused by bacteria, such as urinary tract infections or strep throat, they are ineffective in treating illnesses resulting from viruses, such as colds and flu. However, with alarming regularity, people are taking antibiotics for medical issues that have no effect. The unnecessary use of these types of medication contributes to antibiotic resistance, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This research study was initially focused on this misuse of antibiotics and its impact on antibiotic resistance. However, while antibiotic resistance is a pressing issue, this new research raised another concern.

“Ongoing antibiotic use is harmful in many ways to our health,” Sherry Ross, MD, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Medical News Today. “This study showed yet another association between how chronic antibiotic use. The study revealed that frequent antibiotic use may be associated with a decline in cognitive abilities.”

During the study, researchers analyzed responses from 14,542 women who completed the Nurses’ Health Study II questionnaire. The study participants, who had an average age of 55, were asked how often they took antibiotics and for how long. Those who reported at least two months of antibiotic exposure over the previous four years had lower cognitive scores on CogState. CogState is a self-administered online cognitive test participant took between 2014 and 2018.

As mentioned, some lessening of brainpower is a normal part of the aging process. Researchers factored this into the study. While participants’ scores dropped each year, women who regularly took antibiotics showed a greater cognitive decline than those who did not. Specifically, the study’s authors would have expected to see one year’s worth of decline, and the antibiotic-takers showed three to four years’ worth of deterioration.

Understanding the Gut-Brain Axis

Researchers believe that the impact of chronic antibiotic use and the increased risk of cognitive decline among senior women is connected to the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is critical to the human body’s functioning and health. It refers to the communication that exists between the digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain. This connection is complex, largely bidirectional, and involves multiple pathways interacting to form an intricate network within our bodies.

This communication is essential for homeostasis—the body’s ability to maintain a balanced internal environment despite external changes—and it has been closely linked to various mental health disorders. For this reason, understanding the gut-brain axis is fundamental in exploring how certain diseases, such as depression, stress-related conditions, and eating disorders, may develop in people.

At its core, the gut-brain axis sends signals from one organ system to another via various messenger molecules produced in both systems. Depending on the molecule involved, these messengers can include hormones, neurotransmitters, or other chemical compounds transported through blood vessels or nerve fibers.

The primary way in which these signals are transmitted between organs is via the vagus nerve. This nerve connects both systems (the brain and GI tract) and relays information back and forth, essentially allowing them to communicate with each other even if they are located on opposite sides of your body. Furthermore, it plays an important role in regulating many aspects of digestion, including appetite control, food absorption, and intestinal motility (movement).

In addition to this direct pathway between organs, there is evidence suggesting that microorganisms living in our digestive tracts may also affect this connection by producing various compounds that can influence how we think or feel at any given moment. For instance, certain bacterial species may produce neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine, which can alter our emotional or psychological state, as well as inflammation-related substances such as cytokines which could potentially lead to feelings of anxiety or depression over time.

All these pathways illustrate how complex and multifaceted the gut-brain axis truly is: it connects two very important systems and affects everything from metabolism and digestion to our mental well-being. A better understanding of its components can improve treatments for diseases related to this connection. The reality is that further research needs to be conducted before we can confidently say if any therapeutic strategies would work effectively on humans with these conditions.

The Gut-Brain Axis, Antibiotic, Dementia Connection Among Senior Women

Fat cells have been found to play a central role in cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. What is scientifically known as the gut microbiome is filled with bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The gut microbiome is located in a woman’s (and man’s) large intestine. It is directly involved with a person’s immune system.

Researchers have concluded that the gut-brain axis, or the communication between your central nervous system and gut microbiome, actually allows this bacteria to affect the workings of a person’s brain. According to Medical News Today, some evidence even suggests changes in your gut could lead to a variety of medical conditions, diseases, and illnesses that include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Other types of dementia

Currently, there exists only a limited amount of research on the effect of antibiotic use on cognition. However, antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, so this medication affects the gut microbiome we just discussed. Given what scientists understand about this two-way communication via the gut-brain axis, researchers from the study mentioned at the start of this article suggest that it “could be a possible mechanism for linking antibiotics to cognitive function.”

In conclusion, while there was a significant association between increasing antibiotic use in midlife and poorer cognitive scores, other unidentified factors may contribute to a decline in cognitive ability. “We cannot rule out the possibility that some other risk factor associated with the use of antibiotics in midlife is the cause of the mild declines in cognitive function,” co-senior author of the study, Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Medical News Today.

The study cohort was large, but the results were confined to women. Researchers noted that future research would need to examine chronic antibiotic use in men and patients of different races and ethnicities.

“Our study opens new avenues of research into possible ways of modifying the gut microbiome to prevent cognitive decline with aging,” said Chan, chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. “This also underscores the importance of judicious use of antibiotics across the life course to minimize potential long-term consequences of altering the gut microbiome.”