Dangerous OTC and RX Drukegs Lind with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Most men assume that taking prescription or over the counter medication according to the instructions is safe. After all, they have been thoroughly tested and approved by the FDA, right? Unfortunately, it turns out that many drugs - both prescription and over the counter - are being proven to be highly dangerous, even when taken according to the instructions.
Recently a large scale, long term study reported that an entire class of drugs is linked with substantial increases in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The drugs are known as anticholinergic. Now you may not have heard the term, but you may be surprised at the long list of medications containing the drugs. And you’ll have heard of many of these drugs.
Read on to learn how to protect yourself.
The term ‘anticholinergic’ means that a drug works by stopping the action of an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is important for attention, memory, sleep, and mood. In fact, damage to the acetylcholine system is found in Alzheimer’s, depression, and other disorders.
As you can see, stopping the action of acetylcholine doesn’t sound like a great idea. However, anticholinergic drugs happen to have some effects that can have short term benefits. For example, they are commonly used for gastrointestinal disorders, prostatitis, asthma, COPD, insomnia, dizziness, and allergies.
The list of anticholinergic drugs is a long one (a list of the common drugs and some of the brand names can be found here.) You may be surprised to learn that some of the common over the counter drugs contain anticholinergics.
If you have been prescribed drugs for motion sickness, then you may want to be careful. Several over the counter medications for motion sickness or nausea such as dimenhydrinate are also anticholinergic. Examples of brand names include Dramamine, Driminate, Gravol, Gravamin, Vomex, Vertirosan.
Common first generation antihistamine drugs are common sources of anticholinergics. One such example is chlorpheniramine, which is marketed under the brand name Chlor-Trimeton. Diphenhydramine is another example, and it is included in Benadryl, Sominex, Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Tylenol PM, Simply Sleep, and Unisom.
Tricyclic antidepressant drugs, though not prescribed frequently, are still in use, and they are linked to anticholinergic activity and increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Scopolamine (usually administered transdermally) is an anticholinergic. So are common asthma drugs ipratropium (Atrovent) and tiotropium (Spiriva). For an overactive bladder your doctor may prescribe tolterodine (Detrol), oxybutynin (Ditropan), or fesoterodine (Toviaz).
The popular benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication, alprazolam (Xanax) (and probably other benzodiazepine drugs as well) and the ulcer drug, cimetidine (Tagamet) are also anticholinergics.
Infrequent use of anticholinergic drugs is not linked to significant risk of cognitive decline. However, according to the study that lasted for 20 years, the participants who used the drugs the most frequently and for the longest time were at the greatest risk. In other words, if you take an Advil PM twice a year, you’re not in any danger. But if you use anticholinergic drugs every day for years, you are substantially increasing your risk.
Also, combinations of anticholinergics pose an even greater problem. Because anticholinergics are used for so many different applications, you may use several at a time without even knowing it. For example, if you take Xanax for anxiety, Tagamet for an ulcer, Benadryl for allergies, and Bayer PM for sleep, that’s four anticholinergic drugs!
Unfortunately, many doctors are poorly educated about anticholinergics. According to reports, most doctors don’t know what drugs are anticholinergics. So it’s up to you to do your homework and play it safe.
What You Can Do
When it comes to over the counter medication, you can begin to make safer choices immediately. Many times there are safer, natural solutions involving nutritional supplements that can alleviate many symptoms such as allergies without harmful side effects. These are the sorts of topics we cover in this newsletters. Keep an eye out for suggestions to addressing specific conditions in future articles.
When it comes to prescription medication, it is generally unwise to stop taking those drugs without expert guidance. So speak to your prescribing doctor about your concerns and your desire to find safer alternatives. If you decide to stop a prescription drug, follow the guidance of the prescribing doctor (or at least do your research carefully) to avoid negative withdrawal symptoms.
Once you discontinue use of anticholinergic drugs, your acetylcholine system will repair itself naturally. To help it along, eat a diet that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and full fat dairy. Foods that may be particularly helpful include berries, brassicas, egg yolks, cheese, and butter.
Also, remember that walking, sunshine, and reading are all also proven to help restore balance to the nervous system, including acetylcholine.