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Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 21, 2024 ·  4 min read

Common Over-The-Counter Medicine Linked to Heightened Dementia Risk

Recent studies have suggested that certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications, particularly proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – a type of heartburn medicine – may be linked to an increased risk of dementia. Here’s what we know so far:

What Are Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)?

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Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are widely prescribed for the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, and heartburn. PPIs are effective in reducing stomach acid, providing relief from symptoms, and preventing complications associated with acid-related disorders. Their use has become increasingly common, both through prescription and OTC availability.

Read More: A Father Was Diagnosed With Dementia and Medicare’s Response Was Just Bizarre

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The potential connection between long-term heartburn medicine use and dementia has generated considerable debate and concern. Some studies have reported an increased risk of dementia among long-term PPI users, while others have found no such association. The mixed results highlight the complexity of establishing a clear causal relationship.

Key Findings from Recent Studies

Study 1: Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study

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A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the association between PPI use and the risk of developing dementia among participants in the ARIC Study. The researchers analyzed data from 5,712 dementia-free participants over a median follow-up period of 5.5 years. They found that individuals who used PPIs like heartburn medicine for more than 4.4 years had a 33% higher risk of developing dementia compared to non-users.1 However, the risk was not significantly elevated for shorter durations of PPI use.

Study 2: National Health Data Analysis

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Another comprehensive study utilized data from the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank in Wales, covering over 3.7 million individuals. This population-based study included a cohort of 183,968 people aged 55 and over who had been prescribed PPIs. Interestingly, this study found that PPI use was associated with a decreased risk of dementia, with a hazard ratio (HR) of 0.67.2 The researchers suggested that previously reported links between PPIs and dementia might be influenced by confounding factors, such as the presence of other health conditions and medications.

Mechanisms and Hypotheses

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The mechanisms by which heartburn medicine might influence dementia risk are not fully understood. One hypothesis is that PPIs could contribute to dementia through the accumulation of amyloid-beta, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Another theory involves vitamin B12 deficiency, as long-term PPI use can impair the absorption of this essential nutrient, potentially leading to cognitive decline.

Read More: Air Pollution Linked to Higher Dementia Risk: Study

Limitations and Methodological Concerns

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Several studies on the PPI-dementia link have faced methodological limitations, such as reliance on health insurance data with potential biases and confounding variables. For example, patients with heartburn or acid reflux may also have other conditions, like cardiovascular disease or depression, which are independently associated with an increased risk of dementia. These factors complicate the interpretation of study results and underscore the need for more rigorous, controlled research.

Balancing Benefits and Risks

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Despite the concerns, PPIs remain highly effective for managing gastrointestinal conditions. The benefits of PPI therapy, especially for preventing complications from acid reflux or needing heartburn medicine, must be weighed against the potential risks. Patients should not discontinue PPIs without consulting their healthcare provider, as doing so could lead to serious health issues.

Recommendations for Patients

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  1. Consult Your Doctor: If you need heartburn medicine, discuss the duration and necessity of your treatment with your healthcare provider. Regular evaluations can help determine if continued use is warranted.
  2. Consider Alternatives: For some conditions, alternative treatments such as H2 blockers or lifestyle modifications may be appropriate. Your doctor can help you explore these options.
  3. Monitor Nutrient Levels: Long-term PPI users should monitor their vitamin B12 levels and consider supplementation if necessary, as recommended by their healthcare provider.


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The relationship between PPI use and dementia risk remains an area of active research with mixed findings. While some studies suggest a potential increased risk, others do not confirm this association. Patients should be informed about the potential risks and benefits of PPI use and consult their healthcare providers to make the best decisions like prescribing heartburn medicine. Further studies are needed to clarify the mechanisms and to provide more definitive guidance.

Read More: 10 Medications Linked to Dementia


  1. Cumulative Use of Proton Pump Inhibitors and Risk of Dementia.” Neurology. Carin A. Northuis, MPH, PhD, et al. August 9, 2023.
  2. Proton pump inhibitors and dementia risk: Evidence from a cohort study using linked routinely collected national health data in Wales, UK.” NCBI. Roxanne Cooksey, et al. September 2020.

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.