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Dr. Gregory Pais, ND
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The association between cognition and histamine-2 receptor antagonists in African Americans. J Am Geriatr Soc 2007 Aug;55(8):1248-1253.

There are many reasons why blocking acid with drugs is not a smart thing to do. Here's another one. Long-term use of H2 blocker drugs like Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, and Axid, may increase the risk of mental decline in later life.

Dr. Boustani, the researcher for this study, as a gerontologist, noticed that his elderly patients sometimes appeared confused after taking over-the-counter H2 blockers. Boustani wondered whether long-term use of H2 blockers might cause more permanent mental effects. To test the idea, he looked at the use of H2 blockers among 1,558 over-65 African-Americans enrolled in a study of aging.

The study showed that after taking into account other factors, elderly people who reported "continuous use" of H2 blockers had a 2.4-fold higher chance of some form of cognitive impairment.
Dr. Boustani said, "We demonstrate a simple association for taking these medications for a long time -- more than two years -- and the chance of having dementia or mild cognitive impairment." "Patients had two to two-and-a-half times the odds of having a deficit in their cognitive performance. It ranged from mild to potentially severe dementia similar to Alzheimer's disease."

He's not the first to notice this. Histamine-blocking drugs such as some kinds of antihistamines or H2 blockers often contribute to mental confusion, says neurologist Charles J. Duffy, MD, PhD, director of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the University of Rochester, N.Y. "We have known for some time that H2 blockers have an impact on cognitive capacity and can contribute significantly in delirium -- particularly in the elderly or in those with brain pathology."

H2 blockers are available over the counter as well as by prescription. They belong to a family of drugs that reduce stomach acid. This is your typical quick fix approach that does not address the underlying problem. Is stomach acid the culprit? If it is, why? What else may be going on? These kinds of questions need to be asked but seldom are.

Stomach acid plays a very important role. It helps protect against foreign invaders. It helps us digest our food. Certain nutrients are only absorbed in the presence of sufficient stomach acid. For instance, H2 blockers interfere with the absorption of vitamin B-12, which is important for mental function. Most of the time, patients aren't told any of this. Consequently, they get worse later just so they can skip indigestion now.

As usual, what's telling here is the implicit assumption in the statement that it's known that these drugs cause mental decline. What happened to "First, Do No Harm?" When there are so many lifestyle factors to modify, so many diet changes to work with, and homeopathic, nutritional, and herbal options, why take drugs that might give you dementia?


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