Could long-term use of heartburn medicine be linked to dementia?

Could taking antacids over a long period of time negatively affect your brain? A new study says it’s possible.

The recently released study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology, looked at the lives of nearly 6,000 patients over a five-year period. The study details the effects of proton pump inhibitors, also known as PPIs or common heartburn medications, on brain functions.

What the medical community found was a correlation, which showed an association between long-term use of heartburn medicine and degenerative brain disease.

“They did see a 33% increased risk of dementia development,” said Dr. Alexander Jow, assistant chief of gastroenterology at Kaiser Permanente in Virginia.

But Jow also said there’s still more research that needs to be done to determine causality — because a direct link isn’t clear yet.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether these medicines, like Prilosec or Nexium, to name a few, directly cause dementia.

“I think there’s a lot of unsupervised usage of these antacid pills,” Jow said.

He said it can be easy for patients to get used to taking these medicines regularly, especially if they don’t tell anyone they’re doing it.

“So they get started on them, but no one really assesses whether they need to continue,” he said.

Jow said these pills can be used effectively to treat conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux, and still encourages people who desperately need relief to take them for a short time.

“You really do have to have a discussion with your doctor [about] whether to continue these long-term, based off your response to therapy,” he warned.

He said this new study, and a new wave of thinking in the gastroenterology community, is leading doctors to be more hesitant in prescribing these medications.

Jow said the most important thing you can do to help diminish affects of conditions like GERD and acid reflux is make lifestyle changes.

“America has an obesity problem,” Jow said. “Losing weight is hard, but it’s an incredibly effective and natural way to lessen effects of these conditions, or even eliminate them altogether.”

The doctor also said dietary changes could be the answer, especially gravitating away from spicy or acidic foods.

And finally, he said if you smoke, quitting could be the best thing to do for your gastrointestinal health.

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Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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