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In November last year, scientists at The Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen, who tracked 244,000 middle-aged men and women for six years, found taking PPIs increased the risk of stroke by 20 per cent.
An investigation in 2016 by Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands revealed men who regularly took PPIs were three times more likely to have low sperm counts.
He says: ‘PPIs are brilliant drugs for those who genuinely need them such as those with stomach ulcers or Barrett’s oesophagus, but for everyone else it’s a bit like using morphine for a headache.’Yet since 2015, PPIs have been on sale at supermarkets, something opposed by the British Medical Association at the time, which warned that patients could self-medicate with the drugs for years thinking they just had heartburn but could actually have peptic ulcers, cancer or abnormalities of the pancreas or bile ducts.
Asked about PPIs, a spokesman for The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents over-the-counter medicine suppliers, told Good Health: ‘They are appropriate and safe if used in accordance with the clear on-pack instructions and the patient information leaflet inside.‘They are meant for short-term use — up to 14 days.’ Even on prescription, NICE recommends PPIs should not be taken for more than four weeks for acid reflux and eight weeks for severe oesophagitis — a swelling of the gullet.
Left untreated, this can develop into oesophageal cancer.
PPIs such as Nexium, Zanprol, Prevacid and Prilosec, work by suppressing the release of stomach acid by cells, called proton pumps, in the stomach lining.
And there are concerns about links between PPIs and other serious conditions.
But if the stomach is producing very little acid because PPIs are being taken every day, it boosts the bug’s chances of thriving.
A study this year by University College London (UCL) involving 63,000 patients, found those taking PPIs for two weeks were twice as likely as those not on the drugs to develop stomach cancer in the following seven years Dr Richard Cunningham, a consultant microbiologist at the Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, was one of the first to uncover a connection between PPIs and C.difficile, in 2003, but his findings, he says, were largely dismissed by the scientific community.‘Now there are more than 60 studies showing similar effects,’ he says.
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