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Sleeping Pills Associated With Cancer and Death

There's a high correlation between sleeping pill use, cancer and death. But does that mean the pills are to blame?

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By Valerie Tejeda

03/01/12

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People who take sleeping pills have higher risks of cancer and premature death, says new research. A study published in the BMJ Open journal finds that even low doses of popular sleep aids like Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta and Sonata up your risks significantly. Patients prescribed large amounts of sleep aids—more that 132 pills per year—were 35% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer during the study period compared to those not taking the drugs. Even more alarmingly, those prescribed doses as low as 1-18 pills a year had more than three and a half times more chance of premature death compared with non-users. Researchers from Scripps and the Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine in Jackson, Wyoming tracked 10,531 patients for between three months and four years. The majority took Ambien or Restoril, with 4,117 of the patients taking other sleep aids such as benzodiazepines, barbituates and sedative antihistamines. The authors of the study estimate that in 2010 alone, 320,000-507,000 US deaths may have been associated with sleep-aid use, since 6-10% of Americans use such drugs. Coauthor Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a professor of psychiatry emeritus at UC San Diego, says he's "very shocked" by the high cancer levels he found in this large population; "I suspect people who work for the manufacturers of these drugs might be shocked too." But the study doesn't determine whether sleeping pills are causing the health risks, or if people who seek sleeping aids are already at higher risk. So more research is needed to interpret these shocking results.

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