Our small and large intestines, collectively known as the gut, do more than just provide a long, twisting joyride for our food. As we heard in last week’s episode, our gut, plus the trillions of bacteria that live there, influence our mood, our health, and even our personalities. Indeed, when you hear what it can do, the gut sounds more like a superhero than an internal organ: with a surface area the size of a basketball court, it secretes acid strong enough to burn your skin!
That burn is what you feel when you have acid reflux, better known as heartburn. We all feel the burn after, say, fried chicken doused in sriracha with chaser of coffee, but in the event that reflux becomes chronic, we may find ourselves with a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI. Popular examples include Prilosec and Prevacid; another, Nexium, was the top-selling prescription drug in 2012, with nearly $6 billion in sales.
But recent studies have rung the alarm on the side effects of PPI, most specifically the risk of dementia. The loudest warning call came from a study in the journal JAMA Neurology that included almost 75,000 people age 75 and older. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had dementia. But after an average of 5 years passed, almost 30,000 had some sort of cognitive decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that those receiving regular PPI medication were 44% more likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t take PPIs.