You wouldn’t think that taking a little pain pill would cause long term cognitive impairment, but that’s just one of the commonly prescribed (or even OTC) pharmaceutical medications which were studied in a six-year test to see what kind of neurological damage was caused. Unfortunately, the research found that these pharmaceuticals, commonly taken for a variety of common medical conditions including insomnia, allergies, or incontinence, cause long-term damage to the brain. The findings point to a class of drugs called anticholinergics, which block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter.
“We found that taking one anticholinergic significantly increased an individual’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk. This is very significant in a population – African-Americans – already known to be at high risk for developing cognitive impairment,” said Noll Campbell, PharmD, first author of the study.
The surprising thing is that many of the drugs are commonly used, brands like Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom are included in the anticholinergic drug list, but so are Paxil, Detrol, Demerol, and Elavil – antidepressant medications. Sure its great if you don’t feel depressed anymore, but not if it is because the drugs are just killing the brain cells that might ordinarily register sadness or anxiety.
You don’t have to take multiple forms of these drugs, either. Just one anticholingeric drug will lead to cognitive impairment. Taking two – doubled the risk. Seniors specifically should avoid these types of drugs since the levels of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise. According to the University of Michigan, dementia strikes about 50% of people who reach the age of 85. Of those, about 60% go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that these drugs may play a role in this development and progression.
Anticholinergic drugs block a nervous system neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease typically have a marked shortage of acetylcholine. Here is another analysis showing which pharmaceuticals are most likely to result in cognitive damage.
“Simply put, we have confirmed that anticholinergics, something as seemingly benign as a medication for inability to get a good night’s sleep or for motion sickness, can cause or worsen cognitive impairment, specifically long-term mild cognitive impairment which involves gradual memory loss. As a geriatrician I tell my Wishard Healthy Aging Brain Center patients not to take these drugs and I encourage all older adults to talk with their physicians about each and every one of the medications they take,” said Malaz Boustani, M.D., IU School of Medicine associate professor of medicine.
Why wait until you are in your 60s to see if you will develop severe cognitive impairment from taking these drugs? There are numerous herbal remedies for insomnia, as well as pain, and none of them block important neurotransmitters. Besides, pharmaceutical pain killers have even been shown to kill more people than cocaine and heroin combined.
List of Culprit Drugs:
- Excedrin PM
- Tylenol PM
Prescription meds in these categories:
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.