Seniors who take Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors may face an increased risk of dementia, according to a recently-published study. The research is just the latest to suggest that overuse of the popular heartburn medications could have a serious effect on health.
This new report was published earlier this month in the journal JAMA Neurology, and included information on diagnoses and prescription drug use among almost 74,000 seniors, aged 75 or older, enrolled with a large German health insurance database. The study subjects were followed between 2004 and 2011. A total of 2,950 patients were identified as regular users of proton pump inhibitors. “Regular use” was defined as one prescription in each quarter of an 18-month period.
An analysis of the data revealed that regular proton pump inhibitor use was associated with a 44% increased risk of dementia compared with those not receiving the medications.
The authors of the study noted that proton pump inhibitors are known to affect levels of two proteins that play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid beta and tau. The drugs have also been tied to B12 deficiency, which can lead to cognitive declines.
It’s important to note that this study only found an association between proton pump inhibitors and dementia. The authors cautioned that only randomized, prospective clinical trials will determine if a cause-and-effect relationship actually exists.
The first prescription proton pump inhibitor, Prilosec, was approved in the late 1980s. By 2013, Nexium and similar drugs were being used by an estimated 15 million Americans. But according to a study published this past January in JAMA: Internal Medicine, some 70% of all proton pump inhibitor scripts are inappropriate. The authors of that study also asserted that close to 25% of long-term users could stop taking their proton pump inhibitor without suffering increased heartburn or acid reflux.
While the general public considers the medications to be extremely safe, Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors have been linked to a number of serious complications, ranging from magnesium deficiency to a dangerous inflammation of the kidneys called acute interstitial nephritis. The JAMA Internal Medicine study published earlier this year also suggested that the long-term use of Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors might increase the risk of chronic kidney disease by as much as 50%. Research that appeared just this month in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology indicated that extended use of the drugs increased the risk of kidney failure by 96%, while the likelihood of chronic kidney disease rose by 28%.