Normally I don’t like to give away the punchline until I’m well into the story. But today the news is so important, I’m going to answer the question in the headline right away: Heartburn/acid reflux drugs may increase your risk of dementia from forty to fifty percent.
Here at Brain Health Breakthroughs, we often report on preventable risk factors for dementia such as sleep disorders, atherosclerosis, diabetes and hypertension.
Prescription drugs are one of the major preventable causes of dementia, and we’re always on the lookout for the latest findings. Not all prescription drugs are bad – and some a patient simply has to take — but many do contribute to memory loss or brain degeneration. And often it’s the combination of multiple prescriptions that causes these problems.
Americans are simply over-medicated, and medicated for conditions that are treatable with lifestyle changes (e.g. exercise, adequate sleep, etc.) or with natural remedies. Some people are on drugs that were prescribed years ago, and nobody’s taken a second look at the situation to see if each medication is still needed.
It’s a fact that many “Alzheimer’s” patients have made remarkable comebacks when they got off their meds (something you have to do carefully and with the help of an informed doctor, of course.)
A class of drugs called anticholinergics is one of the major causes of cognitive decline. The surprising offenders include over-the-counter sleep aids, sedating meds such as Benadryl and even some antidepressants and urinary incontinence treatments.
And now heartburn/acid reflux medications, such as Prilosec and Prevacid, are getting the attention of dementia researchers. It’s appalling because millions of people have tummy problems and pop these drugs like candy.
Bad idea. Keep reading to learn why. . .
A link between dementia and heartburn medications with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) was first explored in a large German study1 published in JAMA Neurology 2016. These researchers studied PPI use in a huge population: 73,679 men and women 75 years and older who were dementia-free at the beginning of the study.
The researchers found that over an average follow-up time of more than five years, about 29,000 developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The study took into account age, sex, depression, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and the use of other medicines. At the end of the study, they deduced that regular use of PPIs increased the risk of dementia in men by 52 percent and in women by 42 percent, compared to their nonuser peers.
The study concluded that “the avoidance of PPI medication may prevent the development of dementia.”
The percentage increases in dementia are so enormous, I accept the conclusion, but we try hard to be objective in this publication. There were many who questioned the conclusions, citing that the link isn’t cut and dried. They argued that people who take these meds may also have other risky lifestyle factors including obesity, smoking, and heavy drinking.
Even if the increase in dementia risk is a “mere” fifteen or twenty percent instead of forty or fifty, that’s too much for me.
Setting the Record Straight?
Two years later, research published in Gastroenterology2 sought to put the German study’s claims to rest. Based on an analysis of 13,864 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study, the study authors reported that there was “no convincing evidence that PPI use increases dementia risk.”
It’s important to remind readers that this study was sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association, which may have had some bias. Still, the study’s authors did note that, for many patients, lifestyle modification including weight loss, avoiding tobacco, and adopting a healthier diet could reduce the need for PPIs in the first place.
But others may suffer from more complex gastrointestinal issues that are tougher to treat.
Either way, I suggest making healthy lifestyle tweaks first. For temporary relief, try this old home remedy: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) mixed in a glass of water. It neutralizes acidity quite well, and can even be safely done for a few days.
But from what I understand, it’s not safe as a long-term solution. If your heartburn or acid reflux persists, consult with a trusted healthcare professional.
- JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(4):410-416
- American Gastroenterological Association. (2017, July 20). Setting the record straight: PPIs do not cause Dementia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720095314.htm