According to the hygiene hypothesis, exposure to parasites may protect against inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Our aim was to examine the risk of IBD with childhood exposure to mebendazole, a broad-spectrum antihelminthic agent.
We conducted a population-based cohort study using prospectively collected historical data of all individuals born in Denmark between 1995 and 2018. We identified mebendazole exposure at age younger than 18 years and during early life (younger than 5 years). We performed adjusted Cox proportional hazards regression analysis to determine the risk of IBD, ulcerative colitis (UC), and Crohn's disease with mebendazole exposure after adjusting for potential confounders.
Of 1,520,290 individuals in the cohort, 615,794 had childhood or adolescence mebendazole exposure. One thousand five hundred fifty-five and 1,499 individuals were subsequently diagnosed with pediatric-onset and adult-onset IBD, respectively. On multivariable analysis, mebendazole exposure at age younger than 18 years did not affect pediatric-onset or adult-onset IBD risk (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 0.97, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.87, 1.07, and 1.08, 95% CI 0.97, 1.19, respectively). On limiting mebendazole exposure to age younger than 5 years while there was no association with pediatric-onset IBD (aHR 0.98, 95% CI 0.87, 1.11), adult-onset IBD risk was increased (aHR 1.17, 95% CI 1.04, 1.31). This increase in risk was driven by UC (aHR 1.32, 95% CI 1.12, 1.55), but not Crohn's disease (1.03, 95% CI 0.87, 1.22).
Early-life mebendazole exposure is associated with an increase in the risk of adult-onset UC. These findings suggest the importance of early-life exposures in shaping the risk of IBD later in life.