How Many Brain-Draining Meds Are You Taking?

Certain everyday medications may boost your risk of dementia by up to 54 percent

This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

In a recent press release, the CDC announced a shocking statistic: Between 1999 and 2014, Alzheimer’s death rates jumped by an astronomical 55 percent.

A large number of possible explanations were given for this devastating news. Maybe it’s an increase in diagnoses. Perhaps more doctors are recording it as a cause of death. Or is it simply because there are higher numbers of older adults these days?

While all of these possibilities make sense, there may be another issue afoot. It’s one that most people aren’t aware of, and is seldom reported in the media.

Certain Medications Can Boost Your Risk of Dementia By Up to 54 Percent

An article published in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) reveals that a certain class of drugs can actually diminish your brainpower.

They’re called “anticholinergics,” and they work by blocking a chemical in the brain that affects numerous body systems. Known side effects from these risky drugs include confusion, memory problems and difficulty concentrating.

The JAMA study found that this type of drug may also result in a loss of cognitive function and send you directly on your way to dementia.

The analysis included nearly 3,500 men and women 65 years of age or older. And when the research team analyzed all of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs that these individuals took, they discovered something disturbing — taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54 percent increased dementia risk compared to taking the same dose for three months or less.

Additionally, out of all of the individuals who developed dementia while taking anticholinergic drugs, about 80% of them developed Alzheimer’s disease. This is a big problem, because many people take multiple anticholinergic drugs without even realizing it.

How Many Brain-Draining Meds Are You Taking?

Anticholinergic drugs are sold over-the-counter and with a prescription. And they are much more common than you might think. This class of drugs includes:

  • Cold and allergy medications like Claritun, Dimetapp, Benadryl, Zyrtec and Xyzal
  • Over-the-counter sleep aids including Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, Tylenol PM and Unisom
  • Drugs such as Enablex and Vesicare used to treat overactive bladder
  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs like Elavil, Paxil, Zyban, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Xanax and Valium

Given the damning results of the study, the authors recommend using non-anticholinergic natural alternatives whenever possible. However, when an anticholinergic is your only option, they suggest using the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time possible.

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US Death Rates from Alzheimer’s Disease Increased 55 Percent from 1999 to 2014. Press Release. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 2017.

Gray SL, et al. Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: a prospective cohort study. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Mar;175(3):401-7.

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