Heartburn Drugs Linked to Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerApril 11, 2016

A recent study from Germany has found that seniors over the age of 75 who regularly take common heartburn medication may be 44% more likely to develop dementia.

Learn more about this study, its impact on prescription heartburn medication for seniors, as well as its limitations, leading some researchers to question the study’s conclusions.

Study Finds Association Between Common Heartburn Medication and Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s

A group of researchers from Germany have found that a certain class of heartburn medications may raise the risk of dementia for adults over the age of 75. The class, called “proton pump inhibitors” (PPIs) includes popular drugs like Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid, and work to relieve discomfort by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach.

The study involved nearly 74,000 seniors over the age of 75 and included data from 2004-2011. Researchers found that:

Participants who took PPIs regularly were 44% more likely to develop dementia than those not taking PPI medications regularly.

Researchers are clear that their study merely established an association and not a causation. Britt Naenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn and corresponding author of the study said, “To evaluate cause-and-effect relationships between long-term PPI use and possible effects on cognition in the elderly, randomized, prospective clinical trials are needed.”

Overuse of Heartburn Medication May Have Drastic Effects on Health

In addition to the newest study linking PPIs to dementia, previous studies have linked heartburn medication to chronic kidney disease. While it isn’t exactly clear how PPIs affect brain health, some doctors are warning their patients of the potential increase in risk. Dr. Malaz Boustani, professor of medicine at Indiana University Center for Aging Research and an expert on aging, says: “I’m going to disclose the finding to my patients and then let them decide whether they will take the risk or not. On Monday I have clinic, and if I have patients taking a PPI or an H2 blocker I will tell them exactly what I’m telling you, and then they can decide.”

However, Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association believes the study does not have enough conclusive evidence to change medical practice. “It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now. I don’t think there’s going to be an uprising among doctors telling patients not to take their PPIs. This doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of evidence you would need for that.”

One the study’s major flaws is that researchers could not control for other risk factors of dementia, such as body weight and diet. Fargo explains:

“Both of those things, we know, are risk factors for developing cognitive decline and dementia in later life, and both of those are reasons why a person might need to take a proton pump inhibitor.”

What do you think about the association between common heartburn medication and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s? Share your insight in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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