People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) might be vulnerable to developing dementia, a study suggests. This ups the odds for Blacks who are already twice as likely to develop dementia than older whites.
Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is an umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both cause chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and are thought to be triggered by a misguided immune system attack.
In the new study of more than 19,000 adults, those with IBD were twice as likely to develop dementia over 16 years. They were also diagnosed seven years sooner, on average — at age 76, versus 83 among people without IBD.
The findings do not prove IBD directly contributes to dementia, the researchers stressed.
One possibility is that certain lifestyle factors help explain the link, lead researcher Dr. Bing Zhang, of the University of California, San Francisco says.
He said future research should dig further — looking, for example, at whether better control of IBD is tied to a lower dementia risk.
A bigger question, according to Zhang, is whether there is a role for the “gut-brain axis” — which refers to the complex communication between the digestive system and the central nervous system.
Other research has found that IBD patients may have a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, another brain-based disorder. And there is lab evidence that metabolic byproducts churned out by gut bacteria can affect brain function.
It’s also possible that the chronic, intermittent gut inflammation is, itself, underlying the IBD-dementia link, Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine says.