Researchers may have uncovered an important link explaining the long-term health risks associated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These acid-reducing drugs, known by names such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid, are among the most popular medications for treating acid reflux. While PPIs are extremely effective in controlling the occurrence of heartburn, prior studies have linked these drugs to serious side effects from long-term use, including heart disease, renal failure and dementia.
Researchers from Stanford University and Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas recently discovered that PPIs not only reduce acid production within the stomach, they block acid production in every cell throughout the body. This inhibits the body’s ability to eliminate damaged proteins and accelerates cellular aging.
John Cooke, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher and chair of Cardiovascular Disease Research at Houston Methodist Hospital, explained that PPIs turn off acid pumps in the lysosomes, the tiny sacs of digestive enzymes within the cell that can only function under acidic conditions. “It’s kind of like a little garbage disposal that requires acid to work,” says Cooke.
Without the presence of acid, waste builds up within the cells and accelerates aging. This could explain why PPIs may damage different organs simultaneously.
Cooke has performed extensive research on the endothelium, the layer of cells that line the blood vessels. In previous research, Cooke and his colleagues visited Stanford University’s drug library in search of compounds to protect the endothelium from age-related damage. While their ventures were unsuccessful, they did discover two drugs that were particularly harmful to the endothelium; both of them were PPIs.
While Cooke agrees that PPIs have significant benefits for patients with severe digestive issues, he believes that these medications should not be available for over-the-counter use. “They should be pulled off the shelves,” he says. “They should be by prescription and they should be medically monitored because of the risks.”
Cooke plans to continue his research on the effects of PPIs. He has applied to the National Institutes of Health for funding to perform an expanded, long-term clinical trial (Source: WebMD).