- A study looked at drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, over decades
- Taking them for more than 4.5 years was linked to 33% higher risk of dementia
- READ MORE: First warning sign of Alzheimer’s may be a bizarre symptom
Taking heartburn medication for longer than four-and-a-half years could raise the risk of developing dementia in later life.
A study looked at drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which are taken for acid reflux and heartburn by more than 15million people in the US and UK each year.
Researchers analyzed 5,712 people, aged 45 to 64 when they were recruited to a health study in the late 1980s.
The volunteers were regularly asked what medications they were taking up until 2011, when they were aged 75 on average, to calculate the length of time they 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
Then they were followed up for five-and-a-half years on average, during which time around 10 per cent of them developed dementia.
The study found people who had taken PPI drugs for longer than 4.4 years were 33 per cent more likely to develop dementia than people who did not take the drugs at all over the study period.
Experts suspect taking these medications for a long time may lead to a lower level of vitamin B12, which can cause issues with the brain.
Evidence from mouse studies suggests the drugs may also be linked to a build-up of a protein called beta amyloid in the brain, which is seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, senior 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 proton pump inhibitor use and a higher risk of dementia.
‘While there are various 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 speak with their doctor before making any changes, to discuss the best treatment for them, and because stopping these drugs abruptly may result in worse symptoms.’
Acid reflux is when stomach acid flows into the gullet, usually after a meal or when lying down, which can cause heartburn and ulcers.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce stomach acid by targeting the enzymes in the lining of the stomach which produce the acid.
The study, published in the journal Neurology, did not find any difference in the risk of dementia for people taking PPIs for less than 4.4 years.
Previous studies have not found a link between the drugs and dementia, but this may have been because the majority did not look at long-term use, and dementia takes a long time to develop.
The higher dementia risk for people taking the drugs for more than 4.4 years was found even after taking into account other factors which could raise people’s risk of the memory-robbing disease.
These included their age, if they had high blood pressure, and if they had a relatively common genetic mutation which makes developing dementia more likely.
However the study was not completely precise, as the over-45s involved were asked if they were taking PPI drugs, or had their prescriptions checked for this, only every year.
Each time, that was counted as a full year of taking the drugs, even though people may have stopped taking them during the year.
It means the apparent threshold of 4.4 years beyond which the drugs were linked to a greater risk of dementia may not be accurate.