Researchers say they have shown a link between chronic constipation and cognitive decline, suggesting that people with low bowel movements may have cognitive decline.
Chaoran Ma, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, worked on the study as a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The lead author is Dr. Dong Wang, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard TH Chang School of Public Health.
The study is under review for publication, but Ma presented the team’s findings at a scientific meeting on Wednesday. International Conference of the Alzheimer’s Association in the Netherlands and online.
Ma said the research team’s findings are “the first evidence” that abnormal bowel function is associated with cognitive decline.
Pooping is less associated with cognitive decline
“Our study provides the first evidence that abnormal bowel function is associated with cognitive decline,” she said. university website. “Specifically, we found that decreased bowel frequency was associated with cognitive decline.”
The team she worked with analyzed data from 112,753 men and women from three previous studies.
The research team looked at data on bowel frequency collected between 2012 and 2013, cognitive self-assessments taken between 2014 and 2017, and cognitive assessments taken between 2014 and 2018.
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Researchers found participants’ cognition aged by 3 years
Scientists took cognitive data from people who had a bowel movement once a day and compared it to cognitive data from people who had a bowel movement every three or more days.
Participants with constipation who had only one visit in three or more days “had a significant decline in cognitive function, which corresponds to 3.0 years of cognitive aging,” Maher said.
But the researchers also found a “slightly increased risk” of cognitive decline in people who had two or more bowel movements per day, she said.
Ma said the objective cognitive functions that the research team looked at included learning and working memory scores, psychomotor speed and attention.
At least one participant said they had more trouble than usual performing activities related to four areas of cognitive function:
- General memory – Remember recent events and lists of items
- Executive functions – comprehending things, following verbal instructions, following group conversations and synopsis of television programs
- Attention – remembering things from one moment to the next
- Visuospatial Skills – Find a way around familiar streets
What does the gut have to do with brain function?
The researchers also examined the gut to see how its contents affect cognitive function.
According to researchers, Harvard University, the microbiome is made up of microorganisms that can both help and harm the body. In many cases, both sides of the flora can be present without problems.
But infections, diet, and long-term use of antibiotics and other bacteria-destroying drugs can make the body more susceptible to illness, the university writes on its website.
The microbiome can protect the body from microorganisms that enter the body, such as contaminated drinks and food. Bacteria found in the human gut include Prevotella, Ruminococcus, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, Harvard said on its website.
Ma’s gut study examined subjective cognition in 515 men and women and found that bowel frequency and subjective cognition were significantly associated with global variation in the gut microbiome and specific microbial species.
“Our microbiome study found that people with specific microbial profiles in their gut—more bacteria that can cause inflammation and fewer bacteria responsible for fiber digestion—had less frequent bowel movements and decreased cognitive function,” Dr. Ma said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, she told USA TODAY that the study has some limitations.
Although the research team found that bowel frequency is closely related to the gut microbiome, she said the study was not designed to test causal links between bowel movements, the gut microbiome and cognitive health.
“We cannot make firm conclusions about the exact causality underlying this association,” she told USA TODAY. “Also, more research is needed to identify the microbes involved and their functions.”
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Talk to your doctor about gut health
Researchers are encouraging the public to take gut problems seriously.
“These results highlight the importance of clinicians discussing bowel health, especially constipation, with older patients,” said Wang of Harvard Medical School.
He also suggested adopting a healthy diet rich in high-fiber and polyphenol-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in addition to drinking plenty of water each day and engaging in regular physical activity.