Heartburn drugs taken by millions could raise the risk of dying early, a large study suggests.
The drugs which are known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs - have previously been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia.
The NHS issues more than 50 million prescriptions each year for the medication which is used to treat heartburn, ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems, but researchers say it may be time to restrict the use of the tablets.
The drugs also are available over the counter under brand names including Prilosec, Prevacid and Zegerid .
Researchers examined medical records of more than 275,000 PPI users and nearly 75,000 people who took another class of drugs - known as H2 blockers - to reduce stomach acid.
"No matter how we sliced and diced the data from this large data set, we saw the same thing: there''t take it willy-nilly if I didn''t stop it and patients just keep getting refill after refill after refill,” he added.
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The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, concluded: “Emerging evidence suggests that PPIs may boost the risk of tissue damage arising from normal cellular processes, known as oxidative stress, as well as the shortening of telomeres, which sit on the end of chromosomes and perform a role similar to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces."
However the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents firms making over-the-counter drugs, said: "All over-the-counter medicines have been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and are rigorously assessed for safety and efficacy.
"Once on the market, their safety is continually monitored in light of any emerging evidence. Those who may be concerned should speak to their GP or pharmacist before taking any medicine."