Feeling the (Heart)burn?

How often do you or your parents reach for over-the-counter heartburn medication after a big meal? Well, before you say “Pass the Prilosec,” you may want to consider some new information. News outlets like CBS, the Washington Post, and The New York Times have recently published articles about the new link between popular heartburn medications and increased risk of dementia. Here’s what you need to know:

The Nitty Gritty
Researchers studied over 3,000 older adults (at least 75 years old) in the German Study on Aging, Cognition, and Dementia. Doctors visited these subjects, evaluated their cognitive health and recorded which medications they were on, and then followed up three more times in 18-month intervals. During this time, they identified 431 patients with any sort of dementia—including Alzheimer’s. They factored in age, sex, education level, the Alzheimer’s allele (a gene in your brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease) and other medications. The results showed the odds of dementia were 38% higher in subjects taking heartburn drugs than nonusers.

Life By the Numbers
Dementia is a disease that affects nearly 14% of older adults; it lowers quality of life, and causes huge financial and social burdens on those with the disease and the people around them. There is no cure for dementia—so don’t get tricked by “preventative supplements” like ginkgo biloba. Really, it is important to focus on modifiable lifestyle factors in order to help your brain age well. One meta-analysis (a study of lots of other studies and a strong source of information) found that lifestyle factors like less education and decreased physical activity are very good predictors of cognitive decline (including Alzheimer’s). On the other hand, there’s evidence that healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet reduce risk.

Read the Fine Print…
Previous studies have found links between common heartburn drugs—also known as proton pump inhibitors—and chronic kidney disease, as well as increased risk for heart attacks. This is the first study linking proton pump inhibitors to cognition. One study doesn’t prove causation, only a connection, but it’s likely that these shocking results will lead to further investigations. Until then, it’s important to be fully informed regarding the medications you take. And because greasy and fatty foods are known causes of heartburn, consider swapping that fried chicken for a salad (so you don’t have to take anything in the first place). Your gut—and your mind—will thank you for it.

(Feature photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

Nicolette Hoke

Nicolette Hoke is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.