Despite a recent study linking acid indigestion tablets to increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, patients should continue to take prescribed proton pump inhibitor drugs (PPIs), such as omeprazole and pantoprazole.
Medications like omeprazole and pantoprazole work by suppressing the amount of stomach acid, treating heartburn and stomach ulcers, and are widely used throughout the UK. However a recent Daily Mail article cites research by the German Study on Aging, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients, linking the taking of PPIs with a 44% higher chance of developing dementia.
The study, carried out by a large German health insurer, used data from German adults over the age of 75, of whom 4% were taking PPIs (defined as a prescription for omeprazole, pantoprazole and several related medicines) and 96% were not. Over a period of 7 years, it compared the risk of a new diagnosis of dementia between those two groups. The conclusion drawn from the study suggested that avoidance of PPIs could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.
However, despite the alarming nature of this report, it is important to recognise that this research was a cohort study, which measures changes over time but does not prove cause and effect, as it includes no blinding or randomisation. These conditions are normally necessary for a study of high authority. In cohort studies, unconsidered factors may influence the conclusion.
Indeed, due to the lack of similarities between the two groups studied, the findings are inconclusive; the group of people taking PPIs was most likely in poorer health generally, possibly taking a number of other medications, and so more likely to experience additional, separate conditions that are linked to a higher risk of dementia, such as diabetes. For these reasons, the NHS found in their response to the story that the study couldn’t prove that the higher probability of dementia was because of PPIs.
In fact, as the Daily Mail notes:
The authors of the study admitted their study had limitations, because they were not able to separate out different risk factors for dementia from their data.
Though these types of studies can be helpful to identify and plan future studies on factors related to certain health conditions, this particular study and the headlines that accompany it have not accurately determined that indigestion tablets can be considered a risk factor for developing dementia.
Patients who are concerned about taking these or any other medicines should consult their GP.