Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are popular drugs used to treat acid reflux, ulcers and indigestion. Many are available over the counter with brand names that include Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. PPIs are among the top 10 most commonly used drugs worldwide, despite evidence of their potential dangers. They have been linked to an increased risk for bone fractures, kidney disease, gut infections and cancer.

Now, recent research has found a possible connection between PPIs and type 2 diabetes. Although some past studies have linked the use of these drugs to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, the association remained unclear.

To get more clarity, researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in China reviewed information provided by three long-term health studies in the US. Their findings, published in the medical journal Gut, found a significant increased risk.

The research: The long-term studies used by the researchers are two US Nurses’ Health Studies and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Every two years, participants have been reporting on their health conditions and medications. Since 2000-2004, depending on the study, this has included the use of PPIs. The researchers looked at nine to 12 years of the studies, during which just over 10,000 nurses reported a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

After factoring in other risks for type 2 diabetes, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, family history and physical inactivity, the researchers calculated that PPI use increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 5% if used for less than two years…and by 26% if used regularly for more than two years.

This type of observational study does not prove that PPIs cause diabetes in the same way that a randomized controlled study could, but the results are important because of the large number of participants. The findings add to growing evidence linking PPIs to type 2 diabetes.

Takeaway: The researchers conclude that doctors should be cautions about prescribing or recommending PPIs for an extended period of time, and patients who have been taking PPIs for a long time should be screened for type 2 diabetes with blood glucose testing.

Source: Study titled “Regular Use of Proton Pump Inhibitors and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies,” by researchers at Sun Yat-sen University, Shenzhen, China, published in Gut.