Midlife Antibiotic Use Is Linked To Cognitive Decline Later In Life

If you've ever had an infection of some sort, chances are your doctor might have prescribed antibiotics. While antibiotics can effectively kill off harmful bacterial infections, a new study has linked their use to a decline in cognitive functioning later in life.

Research prior to this new study examined the relationship antibiotics have on your gut health. A 2021 study published in Nature found that antibiotics not only kill off harmful bacteria that cause illness and infection but can also negatively impact the healthy bacteria in your gut.

Your gut health is important because it affects many aspects of your mental and physical well-being, including cognitive functioning. Brenda Wilson, professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois in Champaign, explained to Medical News Today that what we put into our bodies can greatly impact our gut health and therefore our cognitive health. "There has been strong evidence building for quite some time that nutrition is linked to microbiome composition and both are strongly linked to cognitive function and other health outcomes," she said. However, a new study is highlighting this brain-gut connection, specifically examining how antibiotic use may harm cognitive functioning.

The connection between antibiotics and cognitive decline

A 2022 study published in PLOS One has found that increased use of antibiotics was associated with a decline in cognitive functioning. Researchers took a group of over 14,000 women and assessed their brain function through a series of cognitive tests every two years. These tests were comprised of information processing, attention, and memory exercises. The participants were also asked about their antibiotic use including why and how often they used antibiotics.

The most common reasons for taking antibiotics were respiratory infections, urinary tract infections (UTI), dental issues, and other uses including acne treatment, per PLOS One. Results showed that women who had a higher rate of antibiotic use over the years scored lower on all cognitive exercises.

While these findings don't mean that you should shun antibiotics, it's important to consider the potential effects they may have on your health. Dr. Scott Kaiser, a board-certified geriatrician told Healthline, "This study doesn't demonstrate that antibiotics cause dementia. But it's an interesting study that can advance efforts in the field in a deeper way. It's an opportunity to think about how gut health affects brain health and to be thoughtful about antibiotics."