Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the most effective and widely used class of drugs to treat acid reflux, but patients who use these medications unnecessarily could be placing themselves at risk for even greater health problems. Previous studies have linked long-term PPI use to complications like osteoporosis, hip fractures, pneumonia and C. difficile, and now, researchers have reason to believe PPIs could increase the risk of dementia in seniors.
Research published in the Feb. 15 issue of JAMA Neurology found that people aged 75 and older who regularly take PPIs have a greater risk of dementia than patients who do not take these medications. German researchers collected data from a health insurance firm on nearly 74,000 individuals who were 75 or older. Approximately 2,950 of these individuals had at least one PPI prescription per quarter over an 18-month period. Researchers discovered that these patients had a 44 percent increased risk of developing dementia.
The researchers found that PPIs appear to affect amyloid beta and tau, proteins which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. PPIs are also known to interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, another factor which could contribute to dementia.
PPIs play an important role in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but results from this study raise concerns about patients who overuse these medications. PPIs are currently one of the most widely used drugs in the world, yet previous studies have shown that many patients who use these drugs do not need them. A 2012 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 42 percent of study participants continued taking PPIs even after pH testing determined they did not have GERD.
While the German study did uncover an association between PPI use and dementia, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Senior author, Britta Haenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, explains, “To evaluate cause-and-effect relationships between long-term PPI use and possible effects on cognition in the elderly, randomized, prospective clinical trials are needed.” Until further research can be conducted, Haenisch adds, “Clinicians should follow guidelines for PPI prescription, to avoid overprescribing PPIs and inappropriate use” (Source: CBS News).