Disturbing Link Found Between Anticholinergic Drugs and Dementia

Researchers in Indiana have discovered a compelling link between a commonly available class of medications and dementia. Corroborated by studies out of the University of Washington, this comes as a shock to scientists and pharmacists alike.

Anticholinergic drugs are available in prescription form to treat a wide array of common conditions, including asthma and depression. They are also available, however, in over-the-counter forms in medications like Benadryl, Advil PM, and Tylenol PM. These seemingly innocuous pills that many use as a sleep aid are now showing a residual increased risk of long-term, and irreversible, mental dysfunction.

Writes study author Shelly Gray of the UW School of Pharmacy: “We know that anticholinergics are related to impaired cognition acutely when people take these medicines. They feel a little groggy, less attentive, etc. But these are reversible changes. This study suggests these medicines are also related to dementia, or irreversible cognitive changes.”

In addition to this link suggesting that short-term side effects can manifest permanently in later years, there has also been noted a “dose response”. This means that increased exposure and/or extended duration of use has a direct effect on the level of increased risk. Explained in the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) joint study between Group Health and UW “…people taking a minimum of 25 mg of an anticholinergic called diphenhydramine (or one Advil PM, Tylenol PM, Motrin PM, or Benadryl pill) a day for three to 12 months increased their relative risk for dementia by 19 percent; one to three years, 23 percent; three to seven years, 54 percent compared to no use”.

The frightening implications of this study are reserved for habitual use over an extended period of time; there is as of yet no indication that short-term use for acute conditions possess this same risk factor. All the same, caution is advised when relying on any medication to assist you with something that should be happening naturally. As an alternative, consider other approaches to sleepiness like exercise, mediation, Chinese herbal formulas, and stress management practices.


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