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Originally published February 17 2015

Over-the-counter medications eat your brain, say scientists

by Jennifer Lilley

(NaturalNews) Common over-the-counter medications with anticholinergic effects, even ones as common as those designed to treat allergies, may seriously harm brain health. In fact, so severe are their consequences that they've been identified as playing a role in the development of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.(1)

According to researchers from the University of Washington, prolonged use of tricyclic antidepressants (to help with depression), antihistamines (to treat allergies and hay fever), antimuscarinics (to help urinary incontinence) and even some sleep medications was linked to the onset of dementia.(1)

The experts followed the health of nearly 3,500 people aged 65 and older who did not show signs of dementia before the study began. However, at the end of the study, in which health records were analyzed over the course of a decade, it was determined that 797 of these individuals -- who were taking some of the aforementioned medications -- developed dementia. While some of these medications were prescribed by doctors, about one-fifth of the medications were purchased over the counter.(1)

Zombie meds: "Be aware" of medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter

Specifically, people taking at least 10 mg/day of the antidepressant doxepin, 4 mg/day of the sleep aid diphenhydramine or 5 mg/day of the urinary incontinence drug oxybutynin for over three years were found to be at a greater risk of developing dementia than those taking lower doses for a shorter period of time.(1)

"Older adults should be aware that many medications--including some available without a prescription, such as over-the-counter sleep aids--have strong anticholinergic effects," said Shelly Gray, PharmD, MS, and first author of the report. Gray also says the findings reinforce the importance behind informing one's doctor if an individual has been taking over-the-counter medications. "Health care providers should regularly review their older patients' drug regimens--including over-the-counter medications--to look for chances to use fewer anticholinergic medications at lower doses."(2)

The health dangers of anticholinergics

Anticholinergics are medications which block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which regulates many of the body's involuntary functions ranging from digestion and sweating to salivation and bladder muscle contraction. Several side effects have been associated with such medications including dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation and memory loss, the latter being something which this recent study reinforces.(3)

The report, titled "Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia," was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The report's abstract states:

In general, anticholinergic-induced cognitive impairment is considered reversible on discontinuation of anticholinergic therapy. However, a few studies suggest that anticholinergics may be associated with an increased risk for dementia.(4)

The abstract concludes:

Higher cumulative anticholinergic use is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Efforts to increase awareness among health care professionals and older adults about this potential medication-related risk are important to minimize anticholinergic use over time.(4)

Beyond medications: best foods for improving brain health

Ideally, minimizing use of such medications is ideal if it is possible and mutually agreed upon between patient and doctor. In addition to remaining aware about certain medications and lessening their use, several types of foods may also help brain health and keep dementia at bay.

The Alzheimer's Association encourages people to increase their intake of "protective foods," urging individuals to eat foods such as broccoli, spinach, kale, blueberries, oranges, salmon, almonds and walnuts. Such foods have brain-healthy antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that are associated with improved mental health.(5)

"A brain-healthy diet is one that reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, encourages good blood flow to the brain, and is low in fat and cholesterol," according to the Alzheimer's Association's website. "Like the heart, the brain needs the right balance of nutrients, including protein and sugar, to function well. A brain-healthy diet is most effective when combined with physical and mental activity and social interaction."(5)







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