Aug 4, 2010
Drugs commonly taken for a variety of common medical conditions negatively affect your brain, causing long term cognitive impairment. These drugs, called anticholinergics, block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter.
They include such common over-the-counter brands as Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom.
Other anticholinergic drugs, such as Paxil, Detrol, Demerol and Elavil are available only by prescription.
“Researchers … conducted a six-year observational study, evaluating 1,652 Indianapolis area African-Americans over the age of 70 who had normal cognitive function when the study began … ‘[T]aking one anticholinergic significantly increased an individual’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk.’”
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
Many view over-the-counter (OTC) drugs as safe because they don’t require a prescription. Well nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, many OTC drugs were previously carefully monitored prescription drugs. Many people are not aware that while I was in college in the 1970s, I worked as a full time pharmacy apprentice and helped sell drugs to patients all day long.
Motrin was the first non-salicylate prescription NSAID. Now it is a popular OTC ibuprofen option. Similarly, anti-ulcer drugs like Tagamet, Zantec, and Prilosec used to be carefully controlled. Now they can all be easily purchased in a smaller “OTC strength” that nearly doubles the number of pills required to equal the prescription dose.
Just because a drug is available without a prescription does not make it any less dangerous. It is still a chemical, which in no way, shape, or form treats the cause of the problem and can lead to complications that can seriously injure, if not kill, you or someone you love.
So this is clearly important information that can help you or someone you love reduce your risk of dementia as you get older. Based on the findings of this study, I would strongly recommend that seniors in particular avoid all anticholinergic drugs, like Benadryl (generic is diphenhydramine) which is a pervasive and commonly used in virtually all of the OTC sleeping pills.
Researchers will continue studying the matter to see whether anticholinergic-induced cognitive impairment can be reversed, but don’t hold your breath. Avoidance is really the best solution.
What are Anticholinergic Drugs?
Anticholinergic drugs block a nervous system neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease typically have a marked shortage of acetylcholine.
Anticholinergic drugs are available both over-the-counter and by prescription, as medications used for a variety of symptoms can have this effect. Examples include night-time pain relievers, antihistamines, and other sleep aids, such as:
- Excedrin PM
- Tylenol PM
Prescription drugs with anticholinergic effects include certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
Examples of prescription meds in these categories include:
A Special Note for Aspartame ‘Reactors’
Many of the drugs listed here, as well as a long list of additional ones, contain diphenhydramine. As an important side note, you need to beware that chewable tablets and rapidly disintegrating tablets that contain diphenhydramine may be sweetened with aspartame.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
If you have the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), you must be particularly careful to avoid these types of drugs and all other types of aspartame-sweetened foods and beverages in order to prevent mental retardation.
But many other people also suffer detrimental health effects from aspartame, so you should know that this is yet another potential source of this toxic sweetener.
Anticholinergic Drugs Increases Dementia in the Elderly
I’ve previously written about the health dangers of many of these individual drugs. Paxil, for example, is an addictive antidepressant that is well known to increase the risk of suicide in children and teens. It is also known to increase violent behavior.
The results of this study indicate that drugs with anticholinergic effects may be yet another piece of the puzzle that might explain the sharp rise in dementia and cognitive decline.
According to the University of Michigan, dementia strikes about 50 percent of people who reach the age of 85. Of those, about 60 percent go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
In this study, the researchers tracked the intake of anticholinergic drugs and monitored the cognitive abilities of 1,652 African-American seniors, aged 70 and older, for six years. All of the participants had normal cognitive function at the outset of the study.
Fifty-three percent of the participants used a ‘possible anticholinergic,’ and 11 percent used a ‘definitive anticholinergic’ drug.
They found that those who took drugs classified as ‘definite anticholinergics’ had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment.
In those who were not carriers of the specific gene, APOE