Tag Archives: Risk

Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases, study shows

Never mind the chewed slippers, the hair on the sofa, and the inexplicable barking at 3am. Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown.

Researchers found that dog ownership had a dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

The findings emerge from a study of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden whose medical and pet ownership records were analysed to investigate the potential health benefits of dog ownership. Those who took part in the study were aged 40 to 80 years old and were followed for up to 12 years. Just over 13% had pet dogs.

Tove Fall, professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University, and owner of a five-month-old Kooikerhondje puppy, said the health benefits of dog ownership appeared to be starkest for people who otherwise lived alone. “We see effects in the single households that are much stronger than in multiple-person households,” she said. “If you have a dog you neutralise the effects of living alone.”

Last month, the leader of Britain’s GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, warned that loneliness was as bad for human health as a long-term illness. The estimated 1.1 million lonely Britons are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with good social networks, making loneliness as harmful to the nation’s health as diabetes. While people who live alone are not necessarily lonely, many in the Swedish study seemed to benefit disproportionately from having a dog around.

Working with her colleague, Mwenya Mubanga, on records from Sweden’s national registries, Fall also looked at deaths from any cause and found that people who lived alone with their dogs were a third less likely to die over the study period than those without dogs. For those in larger households, the risk of death was 11% lower among dog owners, the researchers write in Scientific Reports.

The study cannot explain how dogs have a health-boosting impact, but the company alone may reduce stress and motivate people to live healthier lifestyles. In the study, Fall analysed the effects of different breeds and found that owners of dogs originally bred for hunting, such as terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds, had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.

People who buy hunting dogs may be more physically active in the first place, because the dogs require so much exercise. The relationship may work both ways though, with livelier dogs effectively demanding that their owners do not slip into an overly-sedentary lifestyle.

But Fall does not believe that getting more exercise explains all, or even most, of the health effects that come with dog ownership. “My impression is that this has to do with social support,” she said.

Other explanations have been put forward, too. Having a dog around the house might influence what varieties of microbes take up residence on and in human bodies, and these may influence our health for the better, Fall said. In previous research, she showed that having a pet dog reduced a child’s risk of asthma by 15%, lending support to the “hygiene hypothesis” which suggests that living in too clean an environment can increase susceptibility to allergies.

Fall hopes to have more answers soon. One key question is whether dogs protect humans against heart disease by reducing blood pressure or through some other effect. “It may be that dog owners like to be outdoors more, or are more organised, or more empathic,” she said.

Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases, study shows

Never mind the chewed slippers, the hair on the sofa, and the inexplicable barking at 3am. Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown.

Researchers found that dog ownership had a dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

The findings emerge from a study of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden whose medical and pet ownership records were analysed to investigate the potential health benefits of dog ownership. Those who took part in the study were aged 40 to 80 years old and were followed for up to 12 years. Just over 13% had pet dogs.

Tove Fall, professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University, and owner of a five-month-old Kooikerhondje puppy, said the health benefits of dog ownership appeared to be starkest for people who otherwise lived alone. “We see effects in the single households that are much stronger than in multiple-person households,” she said. “If you have a dog you neutralise the effects of living alone.”

Last month, the leader of Britain’s GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, warned that loneliness was as bad for human health as a long-term illness. The estimated 1.1 million lonely Britons are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with good social networks, making loneliness as harmful to the nation’s health as diabetes. While people who live alone are not necessarily lonely, many in the Swedish study seemed to benefit disproportionately from having a dog around.

Working with her colleague, Mwenya Mubanga, on records from Sweden’s national registries, Fall also looked at deaths from any cause and found that people who lived alone with their dogs were a third less likely to die over the study period than those without dogs. For those in larger households, the risk of death was 11% lower among dog owners, the researchers write in Scientific Reports.

The study cannot explain how dogs have a health-boosting impact, but the company alone may reduce stress and motivate people to live healthier lifestyles. In the study, Fall analysed the effects of different breeds and found that owners of dogs originally bred for hunting, such as terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds, had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.

People who buy hunting dogs may be more physically active in the first place, because the dogs require so much exercise. The relationship may work both ways though, with livelier dogs effectively demanding that their owners do not slip into an overly-sedentary lifestyle.

But Fall does not believe that getting more exercise explains all, or even most, of the health effects that come with dog ownership. “My impression is that this has to do with social support,” she said.

Other explanations have been put forward, too. Having a dog around the house might influence what varieties of microbes take up residence on and in human bodies, and these may influence our health for the better, Fall said. In previous research, she showed that having a pet dog reduced a child’s risk of asthma by 15%, lending support to the “hygiene hypothesis” which suggests that living in too clean an environment can increase susceptibility to allergies.

Fall hopes to have more answers soon. One key question is whether dogs protect humans against heart disease by reducing blood pressure or through some other effect. “It may be that dog owners like to be outdoors more, or are more organised, or more empathic,” she said.

Can brain training reduce dementia risk? Despite new research, the jury is still out

More than 30 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer’s disease, and while researchers are pushing hard to find a cure, their efforts so far have met with failure. With no effective treatment on the horizon, prevention has become the only game in town. But what can be done to reduce the risk of dementia, now the leading cause of death in England and Wales?

In research published on Thursday, US scientists claim that a form of computer-based brain training can reduce the risk of dementia by 29%. The training was designed to speed up people’s visual information processing, for example by having them spot a car on a screen, and a truck on the periphery of their vision, at the same time. Those who are claimed to have benefited trained for an hour, twice a week, for five weeks, and some went on to have booster sessions at the end of the first and third years. To see if the training made any difference, the participants sat tests up to 10 years later.

There are good reasons to be cautious about the results, which appear in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions. The study wasn’t designed to examine dementia, and the scientists didn’t rely on a clinical diagnosis when they totted up who had the dementia at the end of the trial. Instead, they opted for a broader definition and allowed people to self-report that they had the disorder. “If you’re going to say you are preventing dementia, you want that defined to the nth degree,” said Peter Passmore, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The scientists actually tested two other kinds of brain training too. These were designed to strengthen memory and mental reasoning respectively. A decade after training began, the scientists found that 22.7% of people in the speed training group had dementia, compared with 24.2% in both memory and reasoning groups. In a control group of people who had no training, the dementia rate was 28.8%.

But in studies like these, scientists have to take into account whether an intervention might look good or bad simply by chance. The results for the memory and mental reasoning brain training failed this statistical test. More importantly, the effect linked to visual processing was at best at the very edge of statistical significance. Scientific convention has it that if the chance of a result being a fluke is greater than 5%, it is not worth taking seriously. For visual speed training, the figure was 4.9%.

“We’re lacking high quality evidence to show that brain training has any impact on the risk of dementia, and based on current studies we can’t recommend people take it up,” said Clare Walton, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society. “What we do know is that keeping the body and brain active across life can go someway towards reducing the risk.”

There are some risk factors for dementia that we cannot change, such as age, genetic makeup, gender and ethnicity. And it may be too late to do much about others. Spending more years in education as a child, for example, has a protective effect against dementia, but whether returning to education later in life helps is unclear.

Until effective treatments are found, the most promising way to reduce dementia risk is through lifestyle changes. Smokers are estimated to be 30-70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop dementia, so quitting immediately is a good start. High blood pressure in midlife seems to raise the risk too, and better control of blood pressure may be one reason the rate of new cases of dementia in Britain has dropped in recent years.

Alzheimer’s researchers often say that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The basis for the claim comes largely from research on exercise and diet. It shows that regular aerobic exercise can reduce dementia risk by 30-40%, while eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, vegetables and oily fish, and low in red meat and sugar, can potentially halve the risk of dementia.

Walton advises people to take up a hobby that hits a number of risk factors all at once. Joining dance classes or a table tennis club is a way to get exercise, to challenge the brain by learning new skills and to socialise, for example. “The best thing is to find activities that do all three,” she said.

Can brain training reduce dementia risk? Despite new research, the jury is still out

More than 30 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer’s disease, and while researchers are pushing hard to find a cure, their efforts so far have met with failure. With no effective treatment on the horizon, prevention has become the only game in town. But what can be done to reduce the risk of dementia, now the leading cause of death in England and Wales?

In research published on Thursday, US scientists claim that a form of computer-based brain training can reduce the risk of dementia by 29%. The training was designed to speed up people’s visual information processing, for example by having them spot a car on a screen, and a truck on the periphery of their vision, at the same time. Those who are claimed to have benefited trained for an hour, twice a week, for five weeks, and some went on to have booster sessions at the end of the first and third years. To see if the training made any difference, the participants sat tests up to 10 years later.

There are good reasons to be cautious about the results, which appear in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions. The study wasn’t designed to examine dementia, and the scientists didn’t rely on a clinical diagnosis when they totted up who had the dementia at the end of the trial. Instead, they opted for a broader definition and allowed people to self-report that they had the disorder. “If you’re going to say you are preventing dementia, you want that defined to the nth degree,” said Peter Passmore, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The scientists actually tested two other kinds of brain training too. These were designed to strengthen memory and mental reasoning respectively. A decade after training began, the scientists found that 22.7% of people in the speed training group had dementia, compared with 24.2% in both memory and reasoning groups. In a control group of people who had no training, the dementia rate was 28.8%.

But in studies like these, scientists have to take into account whether an intervention might look good or bad simply by chance. The results for the memory and mental reasoning brain training failed this statistical test. More importantly, the effect linked to visual processing was at best at the very edge of statistical significance. Scientific convention has it that if the chance of a result being a fluke is greater than 5%, it is not worth taking seriously. For visual speed training, the figure was 4.9%.

“We’re lacking high quality evidence to show that brain training has any impact on the risk of dementia, and based on current studies we can’t recommend people take it up,” said Clare Walton, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society. “What we do know is that keeping the body and brain active across life can go someway towards reducing the risk.”

There are some risk factors for dementia that we cannot change, such as age, genetic makeup, gender and ethnicity. And it may be too late to do much about others. Spending more years in education as a child, for example, has a protective effect against dementia, but whether returning to education later in life helps is unclear.

Until effective treatments are found, the most promising way to reduce dementia risk is through lifestyle changes. Smokers are estimated to be 30-70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop dementia, so quitting immediately is a good start. High blood pressure in midlife seems to raise the risk too, and better control of blood pressure may be one reason the rate of new cases of dementia in Britain has dropped in recent years.

Alzheimer’s researchers often say that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The basis for the claim comes largely from research on exercise and diet. It shows that regular aerobic exercise can reduce dementia risk by 30-40%, while eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, vegetables and oily fish, and low in red meat and sugar, can potentially halve the risk of dementia.

Walton advises people to take up a hobby that hits a number of risk factors all at once. Joining dance classes or a table tennis club is a way to get exercise, to challenge the brain by learning new skills and to socialise, for example. “The best thing is to find activities that do all three,” she said.

IUDs may cut risk of cervical cancer by a third, study indicates

Women who use intrauterine contraceptive devices may also be cutting their chances of getting cervical cancer, according to a new study.

Research from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California analysed data from several observational studies involving more than 12,000 women worldwide. The results, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, showed that in women who used an intrauterine device (IUD) the incidence of cervical cancer was a third lower.

An IUD is a small, often T-shaped mechanism that is inserted into a woman’s uterus. Women can opt for copper IUDs which disrupt sperm motility or hormonal ones which inhibit thickening of the womb lining, preventing pregnancy.

“The pattern we found was stunning. It was not subtle at all,” says the study’s lead author Victoria Cortessis, associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School. “The possibility that a woman could experience some help with cancer control at the same time she is making contraception decisions could potentially be very, very impactful.”

Scientists say more work is needed to understand how IUDs work to protect against cancer. It has been speculated that the placement of the device stimulates an immune response in the cervix, giving the body an opportunity to fight an existing human papilloma virus (HPV) infection that could one day lead to cervical cancer. Another possibility is that when an IUD is removed, some cervical cells that contain HPV infection or precancerous changes may be scraped off.

Researchers were unable to determine whether the IUD type or duration of use made a difference.

“If we can demonstrate that the body mounts an immune response to having an IUD placed, for example, then we could begin investigating whether an IUD can clear a persistent HPV infection in a clinical trial,” says study coauthor Laila Muderspach, chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Keck School. “The results of our study are very exciting. There is tremendous potential.”

According to the World Health Organization, about 528,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide in 2012, and 266,000 women died from the disease. By 2035, the WHO projects that those numbers will climb to more than 756,000 and 416,000 respectively.

The paper notes that because contributing studies were completed before an HPV vaccine was available, the findings may be most relevant to populations in which women 30 years of age and older remain largely unvaccinated.

“A staggering number of women in the developing world are on the verge of entering the age range where the risk for cervical cancer is the highest – the 30s to the 60s. Even if the rate of cervical cancer remains steady, the actual number of women with cervical cancer is poised to explode,” Cortessis says. “IUDs could be a tool to combat this impending epidemic.”

Cancer Research UK’s Dr Jasmine Just said: “This research is interesting but is most relevant for countries where cervical cancer rates are particularly high and cervical screening and the HPV vaccine aren’t routinely available. There are still unanswered questions though, like what type of IUD could be most protective and how long it may need to be used for.
“For women in the UK, attending cervical screening and having the HPV vaccine are the most effective ways to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, along with not smoking.”

Farmers must stop antibiotics use in animals due to human health risk, warns WHO

Farmers must be prevented from using powerful antibiotics on animals reared for food, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, because of the serious risks to human health that result.

New guidelines from the global body suggest farmers should stop using any antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in animals that are otherwise healthy, a common practice in some parts of the world, including Asia and the US. Such routine use is banned in Europe, though campaigners fear the rules are sometimes flouted.

Using antimicrobial medicines on farm animals is one of the leading causes of the rise of superbugs, resistant to all but the strongest antibiotics. Medical authorities warn that the antibiotics available to treat even relatively minor human diseases are running out because of the rapid rise of such resistance.

Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, has warned repeatedly that, a decade from now, even routine, previously low-risk operations, such as hip replacements, may become dangerous because of the risk of infections resistant to medicines.

The WHO reported on Tuesday that in some countries, as much as 80% of antibiotic use is on farm animals. Even in some countries where routine use for enhancing growth is banned, more antibiotics are used on animals than on humans.

The use of the strongest antibiotics, a last resort for the most deadly infections affecting humans, should be banned altogether in animals, the guidelines advise. This should apply, according to the WHO, even in cases where an illness has been diagnosed in a food-producing animal. Implementing this could require animals to be quarantined, allowed to die, or for herds to be culled in order to halt the spread of a serious disease rather than attempting to cure it.

This recommendation is likely to be unpopular with farmers, who could risk financial loss, but is crucial to protect human health, according to the WHO, because the use of such antibiotics in animals is leading to increased resistance even to last-resort medicines, to the despair of doctors.

However, the WHO has no power to enforce its guidelines, which are up to national governments to accept or reject.

The forthright warning comes as new research, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, showed that restricting antibiotic use on farms reduced the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm animals by up to 39%. The WHO said it had used the research to inform its new guidelines.

Restricting our remaining effective antibiotics for human use is crucial because of the lack of alternatives available. “There are very few promising options in the research pipeline” for new antibiotics to replace those that are becoming ineffective because of overuse and resistance, the WHO warned.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak. Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.”

Animal herds treated with antibiotics can develop bacteria resistant to the drugs, and pass this on to humans directly, through contact with farm workers, or through food. A Guardian investigation found that the superbug MRSA was found in a significant sample of pork products on the UK’s supermarket shelves, risking humans becoming infected with the strain.

Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of food safety at the WHO, said the links between antibiotic use on farms and risks to human health were clear: “Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance. The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”

The Guardian, in a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, also found a rapid increase in the number of megafarms in the UK. Megafarms across the globe are on the rise, and they have been linked with antibiotic resistance, as whole herds of many hundreds of animals are often treated at once.

Acid reflux drug linked to more than doubled risk of stomach cancer – study

A drug commonly used to treat acid reflux is linked to a more than doubled risk of developing stomach cancer, researchers have claimed.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach and are used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

A study published in the journal Gut identified an association between long-term use of the drug and a 2.4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer. In the UK, there are more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year but they have been linked to side-effects and an increased risk of death.

A link between PPIs and a higher stomach cancer risk has previously been identified by academics – but never in a study that first eliminates a bacteria suspected of fuelling the illness’s development.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and University College London found that after the Helicobacter pylori was removed, the risk of developing the disease still rose in line with the dose and duration of PPI treatment.

They compared the use of PPI against another drug which limits acid production known as H2 blockers in 63,397 adults. The participants selected had been treated with triple therapy, which combines PPI and antibiotics to kill off the H pylori bacteria over a week, between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists then monitored them until they either developed stomach cancer, died or reached the end of the study at the end of 2015.

During this period, 3,271 people took PPIs for an average of almost three years, while 21,729 participants took H2 blockers. A total of 153 people developed stomach cancer, none of whom tested positive for H plyori but all had long-standing problems with stomach inflammation, the study found.

While H2 blockers were found to have no link to a higher risk of stomach cancer, PPIs was found connected to an increased risk of more than double.

Daily use of PPIs was associated with a risk of developing the illness that was more than four times higher (4.55) than those who used it weekly. Similarly, when the drug was used for more than a year, the risk of developing stomach cancer rose five-fold, and as high as eight-fold after three or more years, the findings showed.

The study concluded no firm cause and effect could be drawn, but doctors should “exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs … even after successful eradication of H plyori”.

Responding to the study, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.

“The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.”

Acid reflux drug linked to more than doubled risk of stomach cancer – study

A drug commonly used to treat acid reflux is linked to a more than doubled risk of developing stomach cancer, researchers have claimed.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach and are used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

A study published in the journal Gut identified an association between long-term use of the drug and a 2.4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer. In the UK, there are more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year but they have been linked to side-effects and an increased risk of death.

A link between PPIs and a higher stomach cancer risk has previously been identified by academics – but never in a study that first eliminates a bacteria suspected of fuelling the illness’s development.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and University College London found that after the Helicobacter pylori was removed, the risk of developing the disease still rose in line with the dose and duration of PPI treatment.

They compared the use of PPI against another drug which limits acid production known as H2 blockers in 63,397 adults. The participants selected had been treated with triple therapy, which combines PPI and antibiotics to kill off the H pylori bacteria over a week, between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists then monitored them until they either developed stomach cancer, died or reached the end of the study at the end of 2015.

During this period, 3,271 people took PPIs for an average of almost three years, while 21,729 participants took H2 blockers. A total of 153 people developed stomach cancer, none of whom tested positive for H plyori but all had long-standing problems with stomach inflammation, the study found.

While H2 blockers were found to have no link to a higher risk of stomach cancer, PPIs was found connected to an increased risk of more than double.

Daily use of PPIs was associated with a risk of developing the illness that was more than four times higher (4.55) than those who used it weekly. Similarly, when the drug was used for more than a year, the risk of developing stomach cancer rose five-fold, and as high as eight-fold after three or more years, the findings showed.

The study concluded no firm cause and effect could be drawn, but doctors should “exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs … even after successful eradication of H plyori”.

Responding to the study, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.

“The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.”

Acid reflux drug linked to more than doubled risk of stomach cancer – study

A drug commonly used to treat acid reflux is linked to a more than doubled risk of developing stomach cancer, researchers have claimed.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach and are used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

A study published in the journal Gut identified an association between long-term use of the drug and a 2.4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer. In the UK, there are more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year but they have been linked to side-effects and an increased risk of death.

A link between PPIs and a higher stomach cancer risk has previously been identified by academics – but never in a study that first eliminates a bacteria suspected of fuelling the illness’s development.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and University College London found that after the Helicobacter pylori was removed, the risk of developing the disease still rose in line with the dose and duration of PPI treatment.

They compared the use of PPI against another drug which limits acid production known as H2 blockers in 63,397 adults. The participants selected had been treated with triple therapy, which combines PPI and antibiotics to kill off the H pylori bacteria over a week, between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists then monitored them until they either developed stomach cancer, died or reached the end of the study at the end of 2015.

During this period, 3,271 people took PPIs for an average of almost three years, while 21,729 participants took H2 blockers. A total of 153 people developed stomach cancer, none of whom tested positive for H plyori but all had long-standing problems with stomach inflammation, the study found.

While H2 blockers were found to have no link to a higher risk of stomach cancer, PPIs was found connected to an increased risk of more than double.

Daily use of PPIs was associated with a risk of developing the illness that was more than four times higher (4.55) than those who used it weekly. Similarly, when the drug was used for more than a year, the risk of developing stomach cancer rose five-fold, and as high as eight-fold after three or more years, the findings showed.

The study concluded no firm cause and effect could be drawn, but doctors should “exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs … even after successful eradication of H plyori”.

Responding to the study, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.

“The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.”

Acid reflux drug linked to more than doubled risk of stomach cancer – study

A drug commonly used to treat acid reflux is linked to a more than doubled risk of developing stomach cancer, researchers have claimed.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach and are used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

A study published in the journal Gut identified an association between long-term use of the drug and a 2.4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer. In the UK, there are more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year but they have been linked to side-effects and an increased risk of death.

A link between PPIs and a higher stomach cancer risk has previously been identified by academics – but never in a study that first eliminates a bacteria suspected of fuelling the illness’s development.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and University College London found that after the Helicobacter pylori was removed, the risk of developing the disease still rose in line with the dose and duration of PPI treatment.

They compared the use of PPI against another drug which limits acid production known as H2 blockers in 63,397 adults. The participants selected had been treated with triple therapy, which combines PPI and antibiotics to kill off the H pylori bacteria over a week, between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists then monitored them until they either developed stomach cancer, died or reached the end of the study at the end of 2015.

During this period, 3,271 people took PPIs for an average of almost three years, while 21,729 participants took H2 blockers. A total of 153 people developed stomach cancer, none of whom tested positive for H plyori but all had long-standing problems with stomach inflammation, the study found.

While H2 blockers were found to have no link to a higher risk of stomach cancer, PPIs was found connected to an increased risk of more than double.

Daily use of PPIs was associated with a risk of developing the illness that was more than four times higher (4.55) than those who used it weekly. Similarly, when the drug was used for more than a year, the risk of developing stomach cancer rose five-fold, and as high as eight-fold after three or more years, the findings showed.

The study concluded no firm cause and effect could be drawn, but doctors should “exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs … even after successful eradication of H plyori”.

Responding to the study, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.

“The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.”