Extended Use Of Certain Heartburn Meds Could Be Linked To Dementia

Occasional use, however, appears to be safe.
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If you’re regularly struck by a case of acid reflux, you’re probably familiar with a type of heartburn medication called a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI.

These “stop stomach acid collecting in the stomach and therefore stop causing problems such as indigestion and regurgitation,” says NHS Cambridge. And in doing so, they ease the symptoms ― and cull the cause ― of heartburn, too.

These types of medication are readily available over-the-counter, and can be seriously helpful after an extravagant dinner. However, a recent study has found links between the long-term, frequent use of PPIs and participants’ risk for dementia.

Those aged 45 and older who took the medication for over four years were 33% more likely to go on to become dementia patients ― though these results were not seen in shorter usage, and the study only involved older adults. Results were adjusted for comorbidities, demographics, and other medicine use.

Study author Dr. Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, a neurologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, told CNN that “This study does not prove that acid reflux drugs cause dementia ― It only shows an association. More research is needed to confirm our findings in other large study groups and understand the possible link between long-term proton pump inhibitor use and higher risk of dementia.”

The study tracked 5,712 older patients who were dementia-free at the start of the study.

26% of them took PPIs during the study, during which participants were asked yearly what medication they’d been on.

The median follow-up time of the study was 5.5 years (so they’d get asked about their medication use about five times).

By the time of the study’s writing, 585 cases of dementia had developed among the entire group. 58 of the 497 people who regularly took heartburn meds for more than four years were among the number. This was 33% higher than the numbers seen in groups which did not take PPIs as often.

What does that mean?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heartburn meds themselves cause the condition, as Lakshminarayan said earlier. The authors themselves did not comment on theories such as that lower B12 in affected patients, or the degenerative effects of certain enzymes in PPIs on the brain, could lead to increased dementia risk.

“Future studies are needed to understand possible pathways between cumulative PPI use and the development of dementia,” the researchers said, before calling their results “Class III evidence.” This class of evidence is reserved for ”[A] study [that] has significant flaws in design and/or execution that increase potential for bias that may invalidate study results.”

Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Medpage Today that “I would be cautious about the study’s conclusions that PPI use is associated with risk of dementia. Importantly, most of their analyses do not support a link. They find an association only in a small subgroup of individuals without a clear linear relationship between duration of use and risk.”

Whatever the case, there seems to be no reason to worry about the occasional gulp of antacid (thank the dinner-guzzling gods).