Feature

Health scare of the week: Antacids’ hidden danger

Prolonged use of antacids for heartburn increases the likelihood of vitamin B-12 deficiency.

People who take antacids for heartburn should beware: Prolonged use increases the likelihood of vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can contribute to health problems including depression, nerve damage, and dementia, NPR.com reports. An examination of the records of 26,000 patients at Kaiser Permanente clinics between 1997 and 2011 found that those who took a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors—sold over the counter as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium—for two years or more had a 65 percent higher than normal risk of B-12 deficiency. Those who took the acid-inhibiting drugs called histamine-2 receptor antagonists, contained in brands such as Pepcid and Zantac, also experienced an increased but more modest risk. Unlike chewable tablets that neutralize stomach acids, the medications examined in the study shut down cells in the stomach responsible for producing acid. Those same cells also make a protein that helps with vitamin B-12 absorption. “It’s not that people should stop the medication,” says Kaiser gastroenterologist Douglas Corley. “They should check with their physician to be screened.” Vitamin deficiencies can often be effectively treated with vitamin supplements.

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