(NaturalNews) There is probably no more dreaded illness associated with getting older than Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other forms of dementia - and the number of people with this identity-destroying, mind-robbing horror is growing. The increase is mostly blamed on the aging population but that doesn't explain why dementia hits some and not others in the first place.
Now, breaking research suggests a strong link between widely used drugs known as benzodiazepines (which include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ambien, Halcion, Restoril, Lorazepam and dozens more) and a doubling in the risk of developing dementia.
The study by scientists from Harvard University and the University of Bordeaux in France, was just published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and involved 1,063 men and women who were all free of dementia at the start of the trial. Followed for several years, those who began taking benzodiazepines demonstrated a 50 percent increase in developing Alzheimer's type problems compared to those who never used the drugs.
"The analysis of the cases of dementia in the first population group shows that individuals who began treatment after five years during the follow-up period had an increased risk of developing dementia," one of the lead researchers, Tobias Kurth, said in a media statement; he noted that the results were"robust."
So were the people who developed dementia taking high amounts of benzodiazepines for very long periods? Not at all. In fact, patients who had taken the pills at least once over the course of a week or so at some point in the previous 15 years were found to be at heightened risk. While the people in the study were elders, the research raises disturbing questions about what these popular pills are doing to anyone of any age who takes them.
If you take a drug like Xanax for years as a young or middle-aged person, does it mean you are raising the odds you'll end up with dementia? Unfortunately, no one knows. After all, previous studies have shown that side effects of benzodiazepines, along with problems like nausea, headache and lethargy, can cause memory impairment and personality changes. Some research has found impaired cognitive abilities can last long after a person goes off the drugs - suggesting they may well cause changes in the brain that last.
Dr. Kurth, who works jointly at Harvard University's School of Public Health and the University of Bordeaux, cautioned that this single study "does not necessarily show everything that is going on, so there is no need to panic." However, he admitted in a statement to the press that "There is a potential that these drugs are really harmful. If it is really true that these drugs are causing dementia that will be huge."
This is not the first worrisome clue that benzodiazepines have dangerous long-term effects. In 2011, scientists from Cardiff University found that Britons between the ages of 45 and 85 who had taken the drugs at least once over the last two decades were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia. And this year, a U.S. study by scientists showed that people taking between four and 18 of these pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to die prematurely. People taking 132 pills a year or more were 5.3 times more likely to face an early death
The new BMJ study concludes: "Considering the extent to which benzodiazepines are prescribed and the number of potential adverse effects, indiscriminate widespread use should be cautioned against." However, that caution could continue to fall on proverbial deaf ears. After all, these drugs are huge money makers for the drug industry, which keeps coming up with new uses for them - they are now heavily advertised as sleeping pills.
Prescribed primarily for anxiety, panic attacks, to relax muscles and as sleep aids, this family of drugs accounts for approximately 33 percent of all prescription drugs in the U.S. and they rake in over a billion dollars yearly for Big Pharma.
About the author: Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.