- One study looked at drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, for decades
- Taking them for more than 4.5 years was linked to a 33% increased risk of dementia
- READ MORE: The first warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease may be a strange symptom
Taking heartburn medications for more than four and a half years could increase the risk of developing dementia in the future.
One study looked at drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which are taken for acid reflux and heartburn by more than 15 million people in the US and UK each year.
The researchers looked at 5,712 people, ages 45 to 64 when they were recruited for a health study in the late 1980s.
The volunteers were regularly asked what medications they were taking until 2011, when they were an average age of 75, to estimate the amount of time they had used PPIs.
A new study found that regular use of proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec (above), was linked to a 33% increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia
They were then followed for five and a half years on average, during which time about 10 percent of them developed dementia.
The study found that people who had taken PPI drugs for more than 4.4 years were 33 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who did not take the drugs at all during the study period.
Experts suspect that taking these drugs for a long time may lead to a lower level of vitamin B12, which can cause problems in the brain.
Evidence from mouse studies suggests that the drugs may also be linked to the buildup of a protein called amyloid beta in the brain, which is seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, lead author of the study from the University of Minnesota, said: “More research is needed to confirm our findings and explore reasons for the possible link between long-term use of proton pump inhibitors and an increased risk of dementia”.
“While there are several ways to treat acid reflux, such as taking antacids, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding late meals and certain foods, different approaches may not work for everyone.
“It is important that people taking these medications talk with their doctor before making any changes, to discuss the best treatment for them, and because stopping these medications abruptly can worsen symptoms.”
Acid reflux is when stomach acid flows up into the throat, usually after a meal or at bedtime, which can cause heartburn and ulcers.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce stomach acid by attacking enzymes in the stomach lining that produce acid.
The study, published in the journal Neurology, found no difference in dementia risk for people who took PPIs for less than 4.4 years.
Previous studies have not found a link between the drugs and dementia, but this may be because most did not look at long-term use, and dementia takes a long time to develop.
The increased risk of dementia for people who took the drugs for more than 4.4 years was found even after accounting for other factors that might increase people’s risk of the memory-robbing disease.
These included their age, whether they had high blood pressure, and whether they had a relatively common gene mutation that increases the odds of developing dementia.
However, the study was not completely accurate, as those over 45 involved were asked if they were taking PPI drugs, or if their prescriptions were reviewed for this, only every year.
Each time, that was counted as a full year of taking the drugs, even though the people could have stopped taking them during the year.
It means that the apparent threshold of 4.4 years beyond which medications were associated with an increased risk of dementia may not be accurate.