Popular Heartburn Medicine Linked to Increased Dementia Risk

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Recent research published in USA Today has revealed a potential link between a common type of heartburn medication and an increased risk of dementia. The study focused on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are frequently prescribed for acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and other digestive issues. These medications are also available over the counter under brand names such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid. 

The study found that individuals who took PPIs for more than 4.4 years had a 33% higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who did not use the medication. This research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the medical journal “Neurology.” It’s important to note that while the study provides evidence of a potential risk, it does not conclusively prove that PPIs cause dementia. 

Acid reflux, which PPIs treat, occurs when stomach acid escapes into the esophagus, often after meals or before bedtime. This condition can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can damage the esophagus and elevate the risk of cancer. PPIs work by targeting acid-producing enzymes in the stomach lining, reducing the amount of acid produced. 

This study is not the first to investigate the potential side effects of PPIs. Previous research has linked these medications to conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. However, past studies on the connection between PPIs and dementia have yielded mixed results. Some reviews found no significant links between dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and PPI use. 

The recent study involved over 5,700 participants, all of whom did not have dementia at the beginning. They were monitored for 5.5 years, with an average age of 75. The research categorized participants based on the duration they took PPIs. Those who used the medication for at least 4.4 years exhibited the highest dementia rates. The study did not include individuals who consumed over-the-counter versions of PPIs. 

Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, the study’s author and a vascular neurologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of patients discussing all medications, including over-the-counter ones, with their doctors. 

Fouad J. Moawad, a gastroenterologist and spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, highlighted that the study’s design might not account for other factors influencing the results, such as vitamin B12 deficiency and depression. He also pointed out the challenges in determining the exact duration and frequency of PPI consumption by patients. In 2022, guidelines were updated on when acid-reflux drug prescriptions should be reduced or discontinued.

Moawad advises patients to take the lowest effective dose for severe reflux conditions and recommends lifestyle changes like avoiding acid-triggering foods, not eating close to bedtime, elevating the head during sleep, and weight loss. In conclusion, while PPIs are effective in treating acid-related disorders, it’s crucial for patients to weigh the potential risks and benefits of any medication. 

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