Education seems to protect the gut, not just make you smarter: ScienceAlert

The different parts of our body are closely connected, and good health in one area can often bring benefits in other areas as well. Take, for example, a possible link between better education and a reduced risk of intestinal disease.

The research builds on a previous study by some members of the same team that revealed a genetic association between Alzheimer’s disease (which breaks down cognitive functioning) and gastrointestinal health problems.

“Bowel dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease may not only have a common genetic predisposition, but may similarly be influenced by genetic variations underlying education level,” says geneticist Simon Laws of Australia’s Edith Cowan University.

The team collected data from 766,345 people involved in genome-wide association studies, looking at the relationships between Alzheimer’s disease, specific cognitive characteristics and a range of gut disorders.

Those intestinal conditions include peptic ulcer disease (PUD), gastritis-duodenitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The analysis revealed a “strong and highly significant inverse global genetic correlation” between cognitive traits and most bowel disorders, but not for IBD.

The researchers think this link may depend on effects on specific parts of the genome. A gene-based analysis also found significant genetic overlap of cognitive features with Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal disease.

This relationship can even be relatively direct. By applying a so-called Mendelian randomization analysis, the researchers showed that it was quite possible that factors such as education and higher intelligence reduced the risk of certain intestinal disorders.

In addition, the team also found some evidence that GERD caused cognitive decline across several traits, including intelligence and educational attainment. Indeed, this gut-brain relationship can go both ways.

“GERD can be a risk factor for cognitive impairment, so it’s important for health professionals to look for signs or symptoms of cognitive dysfunction in patients with the bowel disease,” says geneticist Emmanuel Adewuyi of Edith Cowan University.

We’ve seen countless previous studies looking at the gut-brain axis and how it can be managed. For example, eating healthy foods can potentially reduce stress levels in the brain if a diet is properly managed.

Exactly how these relationships arise is not yet clear, but the connection between our brain and our digestive system appears to be one of the strongest out there – and problems at one end of this chain can lead to problems at the other.

Findings from the study could influence government policy, the researchers suggest: The data shows that better education levels and cognitive thinking somehow influence the likelihood of problems in the gut.

“The results support education as a possible way to reduce the risk of intestinal disease, for example by encouraging higher levels of education or a possible extension of training duration,” says Adewuyi.

“Therefore, policy efforts aimed at increasing educational attainment or cognitive training may contribute to higher levels of intelligence, which could lead to better health outcomes, including a reduced risk of intestinal disease.”

The research has been published in the International journal of molecular sciences.

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