Repeated intake of a class of heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may raise seniors' risk of developing dementia. The drugs, which include Prilosec, Nexium and Prevaci, work by lowering the amount of acid the stomach produces.
For the study published in JAMA Neurology, researchers look at the data of 73,679 patients who were at least 75 years old and did not have dementia at the start of the study. Over the course of seven years, 29, 510 of these patients were diagnosed with dementia.
Analysis of PPI use revealed that the 2,950 patients were regularly taking the drug. These PPI users were also found to have increased risk for dementia compared with those who do not take the drug.
The results of the study were in line with findings of earlier research with mice that found rodents on PPI tend to have higher levels of amyloid plaques, whose buildup in the brain is associated with dementia.
Based on their findings, the researchers said that avoiding PPIs may help prevent the development of dementia albeit further studies are still needed to get a closer look at the connection between the medication and development of dementia.
"Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are widely used for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases but have also been shown to be potentially involved in cognitive decline," the researchers wrote in their study. "The avoidance of PPI medication may prevent the development of dementia."
It isn't the first time that PPIs have been linked to unwanted side effects. The drug, for instance may lead to low magnesium levels. It also raises risk for gastrointestinal infection, kidney disease, fracture, pneumonia and Clostridium difficile infection.
How the drug works could determine the cause of the problem. PPIs block the production of stomach acids, which help digest food and serve as a barrier against ingested pathogens. When there are less stomach acids, people become vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies and infections.
Study author Britta Haenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, said that patients should take the drugs according to the instructions of doctors, who in turn should make sure not to overprescribe PPIs, which commonly happens.