A popular class of heartburn medications might raise a senior's risk of dementia, a new study suggests.
Called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), this group of drugs includes Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. They work by lowering the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
But German researchers found that people 75 or older who regularly take the medications had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia, compared with seniors not using the drugs. The study only found an association, however, and not a cause-and-effect link.
"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," said corresponding author Britta Haenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn.
In the meantime, "Clinicians should follow guidelines for PPI prescription, to avoid overprescribing PPIs and inappropriate use," Haenisch said.
The report was published Feb. 15 in the journal JAMA Neurology.
"It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now," Fargo said. "I don't think there's going to be an uprising among doctors telling patients not to take their PPIs. This doesn't rise anywhere near the level of evidence you would need for that."
One of the paper's main flaws is that researchers could not control for diet and body weight as risk factors, Fargo said.
"Both of those things, we know, are risk factors for developing cognitive decline and dementia in later life, and both of those are reasons why a person might need to take a proton pump inhibitor," Fargo explained.