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Indigestion Links to Dementia

January 2014

For various reasons, as we get older many more of us seem to have problems with our digestion. Today, the chemists are full of various anti-acid indigestion preparations, the tv carries dramatic adverts for different products - and when we suffer from heart burn, trapped air or other discomforts, most of us will happily reach for an “over the counter” medication to alleviate the conditions.

So here at Laterlife we were very concerned when we read a recent report that long term use of antacids can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12. A lack of vitamin B12 is linked to an increased risk of not only anaemia and nerve damage but also of memory loss and dementia.

After some research we tracked down the Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research Clinical Services, located on the Oakland Medical Center in America. It seems researchers there have recently completed a study on over 25,000 patients diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency and the results showed that those who took the antacid drugs PPIs (or protein pump inhibitors) for more than two years had a 65 per cent increase in a risk of B12 deficiency.

This was good news in a way because the research really involved the next level up of anti-acid medications such as omeprazole, esomeprazole and lansoprazole rather than the everyday tablets or liquids we buy from the supermarket.

Nevertheless the connection between anti-acids and dementia is still very well worth noting. Also, as we age, more and more people are being prescribed with these anti-acid medications (or protein pump inhibitors as they are often called), when the indications from this research really become very important.

The problem starts because one of the myriad of important jobs done by our stomach acids is to help the body’s absorption of vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is vital in our overall wellbeing. It helps keep our nerve and blood cells healthy and makes DNA, the genetic material in all of our cells. It also helps prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia which makes people tired and weak.

Vitamin B12 is attached to the protein in various foods including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Certain foodstuffs such as beef liver are very high in vitamin B12.However, to ensure the body absorbs vitamin B12 from food, it needs hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Clearly, by taking acid-inhibiting medication which suppresses the production of gastric acids, you will also reduce your ability to absorb vitamin B12.

A mild deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to tiredness, rapid heartbeat, pale skin, bleeding gums and constipation. However, if the deficiency is not corrected, it can damage the nerve cells leading perhaps to tingling or numbness in fingers and toes, mood changes, and memory loss and dementia.

Dr Douglas Corley, a gastroenterologist, led the research. He said: “Higher doses are associated with an increased risk, compared with lower doses. This doesn’t mean people should stop their medications, people take them for good reasons.

“However, the research has raised the question of whether people who are taking acid-depressing medications for a long period should be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency,” he added.

If you do regularly take strong anti-acid medication, it may well be worth asking your doctor for a blood test. This is fairly simple, and if you are found to be deficient in vitamin B12, there are vitamin supplements and other ways of managing this.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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