Are Acid-Reducers Increasing Dementia?
Prilosec and Prevacid probably aren’t causing mental decline, as once suspected.
If you’ve been taking an acid-reducer and showing some signs of mental decline, you’re hardly alone. Both circumstances are common.
But you probably don’t have to worry that the medication is the reason for the decline, a large 2017 study suggests.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)—omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid) are two common names—treat reflux by cutting your body’s production of acid. They have also been prescribed for ulcers, though there’s less evidence to back up that strategy.
Prescriptions have soared, prompting research that often found that PPIs had been overprescribed.
Then some studies found a link between proton pump inhibitors and dementia in people age 75 and older. Both omeprazole and lansoprazole cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they could directly affect the brain.
To test this suspicion, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta gathered data on 10,486 participants age 50 and up with either normal or slightly impaired cognitive function. Eighteen percent of them used PPIs occasionally and eight percent used them regularly.
Compared to the majority, who didn’t use PPIs, the people who did at least occasionally were older, and more likely to have other health issues—including heart disease, diabetes, and depression. They were also more likely to be taking anticholinergic medications—a huge class of sometimes common drugs like paroxetine (Paxil) and diphenhydramine(Benadryl)—that may up the chance of dementia.
So PPI users may be at higher risk of dementia because of their other illnesses, not because of the drug. When the team controlled for other risks, the PPI users actually had a lower chance of dementia. Why? Maybe because they were getting better health care, the authors said.
A large 2016 German study also found that people taking PPIs (and statins) had a lower chance of dementia.
Still, there are reasons to avoid using PPIs. The Food and Drug Administration has issued numerous warnings about P.P.I.’s: long-term use and high doses may promote bone fractures or Clostridium difficile infection, an intestinal problem that is hard to handle, especially for the elderly.
They also may interfere with the absorption of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and hamper the action of other medications. The F.D.A. warns, for example, that Prilosec weakens the anticlotting effect of clopidogrel (Plavix)
One small study tied PPIs to weight gain; a majority of the people taking a PPI every day gained weight, by an average of almost eight pounds over a 2-5 year period. Each person was matched to a healthy “control” of the same age and sex who didn’t take the PPI, and the controls didn’t gain weight.
Bottom line: take them occasionally, if you must, for as few days as you can.
A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.