Inflammatory bowel disease linked with increased dementia risk

23 June 2020

Today (Tuesday 23 June) researchers reveal inflammatory bowel disease – including the conditions ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. The research from scientists in Taiwan is published online in the journal Gut.

How did the researchers carry out the work?

The research team in Taiwan looked at people’s health records from the nation’s National Health Insurance database. They studied over 1,700 people with inflammatory bowel disease who were older than 45.

Scientists followed the study volunteers for over 16 years to see whether they developed dementia. They compared findings against those without inflammatory bowel disease.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that 5.5% of people with inflammatory bowel disease went on to develop dementia. This compared to 1.4% of those who did not have bowel disease at the beginning of the study.

The largest increase was seen for dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia was also diagnosed around seven years earlier in people with inflammatory bowel disease than those without the condition.

Expert reaction from Alzheimer’s Research UK:

Rosa Sancho Head Of Research ARUK WEB 218x300Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“As surprising as it may be, current research suggests the gut and the brain are linked through what is termed the gut-brain axis. The brain doesn’t operate in isolation from the rest of the body and inflammation plays a role in the development of the diseases like Alzheimer’s that cause dementia.

“In this population-based study researchers looked to see whether having a pre-existing inflammatory bowel condition affected a person’s dementia risk, but it did not look for the reasons underlying this. While this research suggests having inflammatory bowel disease increased the risk of dementia, further research is needed before we can be sure about cause and effect.

“A better understanding of the dementia risk in people with inflammatory bowel disease may help improve dementia diagnoses and get treatments to people who need them at the earliest opportunity. Only through research like this, will we keep people connected to their families, their worlds and themselves for longer.”

Gut: Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with higher dementia risk: a nationwide longitudinal study