Allergy Medication and Sleeping Pills Found to Shrink the Brain and Accelerate Dementia
A class of drugs that includes dozens of common over-the-counter and prescription medications, has been linked to an increased risk of the development of dementia .
Based on the results of two recent studies exploring anticholinergic drugs and their effects on the brain, seniors are now being advised to avoid taking medications such as NyQuil, Claritin and Actifed – to name just a few – “if alternative therapies are available.”
The first study, published in 2015, found that the use of anticholinergic drugs increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by more than 60 percent, but their exact effects remained unclear.
Anticholinergics shrink the brain
A new study conducted by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, has shed more light on the way anticholinergics damage the brain.
From the UK’s Telegraph:
“The cognitive tests revealed that the 60 patients who were taking anticholinergic drugs performed worse than older adults not taking the drugs on short-term memory and some tests of executive function, which cover a range of activities such as verbal reasoning, planning, and problem solving. They also were diagnosed with cognitive impairment – a prelude to dementia – earlier.
“Anticholinergic drug users also showed lower levels of glucose metabolism – a sign of brain activity – in both the overall brain and in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and which has been identified as affected early by Alzheimer’s disease.
“The brains of the those taking anticholinergics were, on average, four per cent smaller, while the cavities inside the brain were 12 per cent larger.”
Many common drugs contain anticholinergics
The long list of anticholinergics includes numerous over-the-counter and prescription medications. Many common hay-fever and allergy remedies contain anticholinergics.
From People’s Pharmacy:
“As mentioned in the [first] study, first-generation antihistamines were linked to dementia. We are talking about drugs like chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine (DPH).
“You may be surprised where DPH shows up. It is the primary ingredient in many allergy and hay fever meds including the popular brand name Benadryl. But DPH is also found in a huge number of nighttime pain relievers and sleeping pills. Look at the label of Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, Tylenol PM or Unisom and you will likely find diphenhydramine as a key ingredient.”
Anticholinergics are the main ingredient in many other drugs as well – including antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, and medications for pain relief, bladder control, ulcers and motion sickness.
For a list of anticholinergic drugs, click here.
Health experts say that the occasional use of anticholinergics is safe, but because these drugs are so common and used to treat such a wide range of ailments, it’s relatively easy for people to end up taking several anticholinergics at the same time, without themselves or their doctors being aware of the danger.
“What concerns us far more than any individual anticholinergic medication is the combination of several drugs with anticholinergic activity. Physicians may not realize that the anti-anxiety agent alprazolam (Xanax) has anticholinergic activity. So does the ulcer drug cimetidine (Tagamet). The dizziness drug meclizine (Antivert, Bonine) also has this activity.
“We could go on and on, but by now you get the picture. There are dozens of medications that have this property. Someone taking Tylenol PM to get to sleep who is also taking amitriptyline to ease nerve pain along with oxybutynin to control an overactive bladder could end up disoriented and forgetful
Exploring natural alternatives
The link between anticholinergic drugs and dementia is just one more example of pharmaceuticals causing more harm than good. For many of the ailments these drugs are used to treat, there are safe, natural alternatives available.
If you are currently taking over-the-counter anticholinergics, it’s a very wise idea to investigate herbal remedies instead – for example, nettle for hay fever relief, St. John’s Wort for depression and valerian for insomnia. If you are taking prescription drugs containing anticholinergics, consult with your doctor before exploring natural alternatives.