Heartburn medication has been associated with a heightened risk of developing dementia, in a recent study featured in the journal JAMA Neurology on Monday, February 15.
Research was carried out by a team of experts led by Britta Haenisch, affiliated with the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, based in Bonn, Germany.
The scientists analyzed medical data pertaining to 73,000 individuals, aged 75 and upwards, whose health had been closely tracked between 2004 and 2011.
It was discovered that 2,950 of these subjects had benefited from heartburn medication based on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), treatment spanning across at least 18 months. Researchers also took note of the fact that by the end of the study period, 29,510 of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia.
By correlating PPI use and dementia incidence, it was determined that people who had been administered such heartburn medication extensively were approximately 44% more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other related brain degeneration disorders.
Prior scientific papers had shown a connection between dementia and H2 blockers such as Pepcid (famotidine), Tagamet (cimetidine) and Zantac (ranitidine), which are also used in order to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
Although this new study only indicates a possible correlation between PPI drugs and dementia, without establishing a causation relationship between the two, researchers still sought to identify a reason why the association exists.
According to Dr. Lewis H. Kuller, professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, it may be that people who resort to heartburn medication have other ailments that make them more prone to suffering from brain disorders.
For instance, according to data collected during the Women’s Health Initiative, female patients who had been treated with PPIs such as Nexium (esomeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole) and Prilosec (omeprazole) tended to be affected by joint disorders, obesity, and by underlying medical conditions that also made them more susceptible to dementia.
This type of heartburn medication produced by manufacturers such as Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Procter & Gamble and Astra Zeneca in order to treat peptic ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease also has several dangerous side effects.
These include: decreased magnesium levels, heightened fracture risk, kidney and gastrointestinal tract disorders, and a higher susceptibility to pneumonia and infections with Clostridium difficile bacteria.
It may be that PPIs that circulate through the blood stream manage to permeate cerebrospinal fluid or it may be that since they cause a drop in vitamin B12 levels they also affect brain function, leading to neurological disorders.
Based on these findings, study authors believe that patients experiencing heartburn, indigestion and other acid reflux symptoms shouldn’t self-medicate with PPIs.
Instead, they should seek the advice of a primary care physician, and make sure that they only take heartburn medication that has been prescribed to them.
In addition, doctors should be careful to consider the patient’s health risks and potential complications that could derive from taking PPIs on a long-term basis, and abstain from prescribing such medication indiscriminately, when milder treatments could be just as effective and safer to use.
In 2013, as estimated by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, approximately 15 million people in the United States used PPIs recommended by their physicians.
Study authors gauge that approximately 70% of these patients could’ve resorted to less risky medicine instead, given the fact that prescriptions were seldom sufficiently well-thought-out.
As a result, researchers now believe that a randomized controlled study should be conducted, in order to establish with greater certainty a connection between heartburn medicine and dementia, and therefore discourage the abuse of PPIs in the future.
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