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Heartburn and Acid Reflux Drugs Linked to Depression

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Researchers in Taiwan have uncovered a worrying link between antacid or acid reflux drugs used to treat heartburn and excess stomach acid and mental health disorders and depression. The team findings recently published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics — suggest that the use of these drugs – also known as proton pump inhibitors – could result in clinical depression and associated mental health disorders as a result of the disruption caused to the gut bacteria and microbiome.

As more research and studies focus on our gut microbiome there is mounting evidence of the effect our gut bacteria has on our bodies and how it influences our brain via the gut-brain axis – affecting our physical and mental health.

Numerous studies have found that laboratory rodents show symptoms of anxiety, depression when they gave the wrong mix of bacteria. Other studies have identified types of bacteria which when supplemented in rodents can treat signs of depression.

Over recent years scientists have made great leaps in understanding how the bacteria in our gut can mimic the chemicals produced by our own cells to affect and influence our brain. In addition, a number of studies have demonstrated how our mood and emotional wellbeing can affect our gut bacteria.

This new research lead by Wei-Sheng Huang, from the Department of Psychiatry at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, indicates that a certain class of acid reflux drugs regularly prescribed to treat excess stomach acid or reflux in both children and adults — increases the risk of developing a major depressive disorder.

Acid Reflux Drugs May Disrupt Gut-Brain Axis

The observational study which was based on the data on 2,366 patients who had developed depression after having been prescribed proton pump inhibitors and compared with 9,464 people who had been prescribed the acid reflux drugs without developing depression. The latter group was screened and matched for age, sex, enrollment time, endpoint time, and follow-up period.

Using regression analysis the team evaluated the two data sets, adjusting for various demographic, psychiatric and other lifestyle/ behavioural factors.  

Their findings revealed that the risk of clinical depression increased for those who took a particular class of proton pump inhibitor – specifically the drugs pantoprazole, lansoprazole, and rabeprazole, while in those who used omeprazole and esomeprazole, “only a trend significance was noted.”

“To our knowledge,” Huang the study author noted, “this was the first study to investigate the association between [acid reflux drug]exposure and the risk of major depression.”

While the underlying mechanism behind this link is unknown, the researchers put forward some potential theories linked to a disruption of the gut-brain axis – or the gut microbes that have been found to influence our mental health.

The researchers recommend further studies into the pathophysiology behind the association they found.

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