According to a new study by the Houston Methodist Research Institute published in the May 2016 issue of Circulation Research, the popular proton pump inhibitor (PPI) known as Nexium causes blood vessel cells to age faster, increasing the risk for heart attack.

PPIs are typically used to treat acid reflux, ulcers and heartburn by inhibiting the production of acid in the body. Long-term use of PPIs has been linked to a number of serious illnesses, including heart disease, kidney failure, dementia, nutrient malabsorption and bone fractures.

For the study, the researchers exposed cells that line the blood vessels to Nexium and an H2 blocker, which is also used to treat heartburn and includes Tagamet and other cimetidine-based drugs. The blood cells exposed to Nexium were found to age prematurely due to waste build-up in the cells, causing the cells to become sticky instead of smooth. The blood cells exposed to H2 blockers were unaffected.

The active ingredient in Nexium is called esomeprazole. Other drugs in the same class include Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Aciphex (rabeprazole) and Protonix (pantoprazole).

Earlier this year, a German research study showed that PPIs increased the risk of dementia in patients over the age of 75 by 44 percent, compared to seniors who did not use the drugs. That study was published in the February 15, 2016, issue of the journal JAMA Neurology, and found that PPIs appear to affect the levels of amyloid beta and tau, proteins associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, more than 15 million Americans use prescription PPIs. In addition, millions more use over-the-counter PPIs to treat heartburn or acid reflux.

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