A new study published in PLOS One found that chronic antibiotic use in middle age is linked to cognitive decline in women.
According to the NHS, antibiotics are used to treat or prevent certain types of bacterial infections. They work by kill bacteria or prevent them from spreading.
The effect of antibiotics on the brain
Few studies have focused on the cognitive impact of chronic antibiotic use in middle-aged people without dementia.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Research Director of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
Our brains do not exist in isolation from the rest of the body, but are connected in various ways. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for many treatable conditions and have revolutionized healthcare; however, little has been done to study their long-term effects on memory and thinking.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Rush University Medical Center decided to investigate. They investigated the impact of chronic antibiotic use in middle age on cognitive function.
The researchers found that women who took antibiotics for two months in middle age had poorer memory and thinkingup to seven years later.
They analyzed a questionnaire completed by 14,542 volunteer nurses living in the United States. The questionnaire contained information about their use of antibiotics and measured aspects of their memory and thinking.
The conclusions remained consistent even after taking into account other potential factors that could have influenced this relationshipincluding the presence of other health problems.
Impairment of memory and thinking due to the use of antibiotics has been roughly equivalent to three to four years of aging.
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The gut-brain axis
The study did not investigate the direct effect of antibiotics on gut bacteria. However, as reported Medical News Today, the use of antibiotics can alter the gut microbiota because by their very nature they kill bacteria. These changes can last for months or years after exposure.
There are two-way communication between the intestine and the central nervous system, called the gut-brain axis. Scientists believe that this axis allows our gut bacteria to influence the brain.
The gut microbiotaregulates brain development and function throughout life. Separate research has found evidence that changes to tThe gut microbiome may play a role in the development of psychiatric and neurological disorderssuch as anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Sherry Ross, specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, said Medical News Today:
The continued use of antibiotics is harmful in many ways to our health. […] This study showed another association of how chronic antibiotic use […] may have an association with a decline in cognitive abilities.