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November 27, 2013

Fizzy Over-The-Counter Meds Have Dangerously High Sodium Levels

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

For years, physicians have been telling their patients to monitor the amount of sodium in their food due to the potential damage it can cause to the body’s cardiovascular system. Now, a new study from UK researchers published in the British Medical Journal has found that some common medications contain enough sodium to increase the risk of a dangerous cardiovascular event.

The researchers concluded that the public "should be warned about the potential dangers of high sodium intake from prescribed medicines" and these drugs "should be prescribed with caution only if the perceived benefits outweigh the risks."

"These drugs are also available over the counter, they can be picked up in the supermarket,” study author Jacob George, a clinical pharmacologist at Dundee University told The Guardian. “We have no control over how many millions of people are buying these drugs.”

"The ones we looked at were prescribed by GPs, but there's a potentially much larger problem with these drugs being bought over the counter and in supermarkets,” added George.

Many drugs use sodium as a non-active ingredient to improve the absorption of an active ingredient into the body. These medications are often the soluble or effervescent versions of a drug. The researchers called for medications containing excessively high levels of sodium to be labeled as such.

The study team began by collecting a list of 24 drugs that tend to be relatively high in sodium, including effervescent or soluble versions of the pain medications acetaminophen and aspirin, as well as calcium and zinc supplements.

Next, the study team sifted through a database of British medical records that included nearly 1.3 million patients’ medical history for an average span of slightly more than seven years. The team said their focus was to determine if people on high-sodium drugs were more or less likely to have cardiovascular episodes than those who did not take these drugs.

The researchers found that over 61,000 patients they were following suffered a stroke, heart attack or death due to vascular disease. To eliminate confounding factors for these events, the researchers considered patients’ body mass index, smoking habits, alcohol intake, history of chronic illnesses, and use of certain other drugs.

The research team concluded that patients taking high-sodium medications had a 16 percent higher risk of a heart attack, stroke or vascular death compared to patients taking the non-sodium versions of the same drugs. The scientists also found that patients on high-sodium medications were seven times more likely to develop high blood pressure. Overall death rates, driven largely by cardiovascular disease, were also 28 percent higher in this group.

"It is important to remember that this research applies to people who are taking these medicines regularly,” Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, told The Guardian. “This does not mean that occasional use could damage your heart health. To give us an idea of whether these risks translate for medicines bought over the counter, we would need to see further research focusing on non-prescription medicine."

"It's important not to simply stop taking your dose,” Knapton added. “Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss any concerns."