Using antibiotics for extended periods of time can harm a middle-aged woman’s brain, and even increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s a new study finds.
Researchers from Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Rush University, in Chicago, Illinois, found that women who took antibiotics for at least two consecutive months during their 50s consistently scored worse on cognitive tests.
Scoring included measures of processing speed, brain functioning, attention and memory capacity.
The researchers write that the use of antibiotics aged women by around three to four years compared to their peers, and even raised their risk of developing devastating cognitive conditions down the line.
Women in their 50s who use antibiotics for at least two months are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and also score worse off on cognitive tests (file photo)
Researchers, who published their findings last week in PLOS, gathered data from over 14,000 women who took part in the biennial Nurses’ Health Study II.
As part of the study, the women would report if they had used medication over the past two year period, and if they were suffering any health related issues – along with other questions.
In 2009, when many of the participants had reached their 50s, a question on antibiotics was included in the survey.
In 2016, seven years later, the women were given a cognitive exam to determine a variety of cognitive factors.
Women who reported at least two consecutive months of antibiotic usage universally performed worse than their peers.
There was also a clear sign of cognitive degradation over time, as women who were further away from their middle-age antibiotic usage tested even more poorly.
The exact mechanism causing antibiotics to have such a terrifying effect on the brain can not be pin-pointed, but experts have one potential hunch.
Researchers point to the gut-brain axis for the cognitive decline experienced by women.
A person’s gut has more control over their body and brain than they may believe, and previous studies have even found that the gut microbiome could determine a person’s personality.
Past studies have also found that gut health is tied to cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and others in both humans and animals.
Experts have long known that antibiotics can affect cognitive process as the body’s gut microbiome has large control over processes across the body, and the bacteria in the microbiome is hurt by the drugs
The gut microbiome is affected by antibiotics, that can kill and change the population of the body’s stomach.
As far back as Hippocrates in 400 BC have humans known that there was some link between internal body processes and outward displays of personality and other cognitive functioning.
In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that antibiotic treatments could alter a person’s gut microbiome, and as a result harm people suffering from psychiatric disorders.
‘More research is needed, but ours suggests that if we can prevent infections and minimize antibiotic treatment in people with mental illness, then we might be able to prevent the occurrence of manic episodes,’ Dr Robert Yolken, a researcher at the Baltimore, Maryland, school, wrote.
Why the microbiome has so much control over the body has not yet been determined, but it has been under investigation from experts for decades.