Drug Alerts

New research suggests that two popular pills—acid-reducers for chronic heartburn and calcium supplements to protect bones—may carry unexpected risks.

Two recent warnings serve as important reminders for us (and our doctors) to always carefully weigh the risks as well as the benefits of taking medicines and dietary supplements.

Calcium Supplements for Bones

Controversial research linking calcium supplements to an increased risk of heart attack published in a leading British medical journal is raising eyebrows around the world.

“A paper published in the July 2010 issue of the prestigious British Medical Journal found from 11 randomized studies (around 12 000 participants) that healthy women treated with calcium supplements (without vitamin D) had about a 30% increase in the incidence of heart attacks compared with those treated with placebo,” explains heart rhythm expert Dr. Douglas Zipes. “Studies on dietary calcium intake do not show such an increase so the risk appears to be due to the calcium supplements alone. Calcium supplements reduce the risk of bone fractures by only about 10%, so the benefits of taking them may not outweigh the risks for most individuals.”

Researchers say that even a small increase might translate into large numbers of women at risk because of the widespread use of calcium supplements. Others note that the findings are not based on studies designed to prove cause and effect.

PPIs Reduce Stomach Acid

In May, the FDA reported that high doses or long-term use of popular proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medicines for chronic heartburn may increase the risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures.

PPIs effectively reduce stomach acid to treat heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux, and ulcers—conditions that, left untreated, can have serious consequences.

As a precautionary step, however, revised labels on prescription and over-the-counter PPIs will reflect the increased risk of broken bones, say federal health experts.

Prescription PPIs are Nexium, Dexilant, Prilosec, Zegerid, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, and Vimovo.

Over-the-counter PPIs are Prilosec OTC (omeprazole), Zegerid OTC (omeprazole), and Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole).

“Because these products are used by a great number of people, it’s important for the public to be aware of this possible increased risk,” said Joyce Korvick, MD, deputy director for safety in the FDA’s Division of Gastroenterology Products, in an FDA press release.

Advice for Consumers

“Before discontinuing any medicine and supplement, individuals should first check with their provider about specific risks and benefits,” advises Dr. Zipes.

Future research will better clarify the risks associated with calcium supplements and PPIs.

In the meantime, read and follow all product labels and talk to your health care professional about any concerns you have about using dietary supplements and drugs.

Click here for more from Dr. Zipes and his new book. The Black Widows | Saturday Evening Post

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