Common meds linked to brain dysfunction

AnticholinergicDrugsCommon meds linked to brain dysfunction was the message contained in the alarming headline in the May 6, 2016 issue of The Week magazine.

Your favorite cold medicine could be shrinking your brain, The Week said:

“A new study reveals that drugs used to treat colds and other common health issues such as allergies, heartburn, hypertension, insomnia and depression, may erode gray matter and increase the risk of dementia and other cognitive problems in older people.”

Numerous common meds that belong to a drug class known as anticholinergics are swallowed by millions of people as unthinkingly as drinking a glass of water.

Anticholinergics block acetylcholine, an important natural substance in the body that transmits electrical impulses between nerve cells.

Some of these common meds linked to brain dysfunction include Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Claritin, Dimetapp, Paxil, Xanax, Zyrtec, Lasix, and Coumadin.

The Week reports that researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine, using PET and MRI scans, examined the brain structure and metabolism of 451 people with an average age of 73.

The study found that those taking anticholinergic drugs had smaller brains and lower levels of glucose metabolism, particularly in the hippocampus—the brain region involved with memory that is vulnerable to early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

But the health warnings in the ‘new’ weren’t so new after all.

Interestingly, in 2010 Dr. Joseph Mercola, a well known and respected naturopathic physician and teacher wrote that anticholinergic drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, caused long term cognitive impairment, as they blocked the nervous system transmitter acetylcholine.

He noted that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease had a marked shortage of acetylcholine.

In his report Mercola  cited an Indiana observational study wherein 1,652 Indianapolis African-Americans over the age of 70 were followed for six years. All the participants had normal cognitive function at the start of the study.

The researchers soon found mild ‘cloudiness’ and other signs of cognitive impairment in the participants taking one anticholinergic.

Taking two anticholinergics doubled the risk.

Mercola listed additional common meds linked to brain dysfunction. Those anticholinergics included Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex and Unisom (over-the-counter).

Other prescription anticholinergics named by Dr. Mercola in 2010 were Demerol, Elavil and Detrol.

According to Mercola, many people believe that by avoiding prescription drugs and taking only over-the-counter drugs, they are safe.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall. 

         –Thomas Paine