Once in a while, I’ll recommend that my patients use an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever or antihistamine if they really need it, but not to make a habit of it. Some patients need to take certain prescription medications, short or long-term, for related health conditions. Yet, many people don’t realize that just because a medication is sold over the counter, or prescribed by a doctor, that it can still have side effects. One of these important side effects is memory loss. Let me tell you about a specific type of OTC, and prescription medication that can really wreak havoc with your memory.
Do You Use These Memory Robbing Drugs?
In the vast world of prescription and OTC medications, there is a specific category called anticholinergics that can really cause problems for your memory. In fact, if you take them chronically, you may even eventually be diagnosed with memory loss and/or dementia that appear to be early Alzheimer disease. And, it doesn’t take much time for these conditions to occur either. In fact, in recent research out of Indiana University in partnership with The Regenstrief Institut, has found that memory/dementia changes can occur in as little as 60-90 days while taking anticholinergic type drugs. Shocked? So was I when I read the report.
Anticholinergic drugs are substances that block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Researchers have learned recently that people who develop Alzheimer’s disease have a shortage of acetylcholine in their brains. Anticholinergic type drugs consist of both OTC and prescription drugs. Many people over 50 take some very common brand name OTC anticholinergics to help them sleep and/or to control bladder leakage. These include: Motrin, Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Excedrin PM (contains diphenhydramine), Nytol, Sominex sleep aids.
Common prescription anticholinergics include: Paxil (a common antidepressant), Detrol (to control bladder leakage), Demerol (a common pain reliever), Elavil (a commonly prescribed mood elevator), antihypertensives (for high blood pressure), cardiovascular drugs (for heart conditions), pulmonary drugs (to treat COPD, asthma, etc). For more anticholinergic type drugs you may be taking without knowing it, please see the list at the Aging Brain Care website.
In their study, the Regenstrief Institut/Indiana University found that people who continuously took stronger anticholinergics (sleeping pills, antihistamines) were at double risk for suffering memory loss in only 60 days. Taking weaker anticholinergics, in combined drugs, showed the same effects in up to 90 days.
Currently, millions of older Americans take sleep aids, pain relievers, and other OTC/prescription anticholinergics continuously which could significantly impact their organizational skills, memory, and cause them to even exhibit dementia symptoms. These researchers intend to further study how reversible the effects of anticholinergics are once the drugs are stopped. Other research suggests that reversal can occur by stopping the drugs.
What Can You Do?
If you frequently make use of OTC sleep aids, pain relievers, and/or antihistamines, and are suffering memory losses, you may want to re-think your usage of them. If you’re taking prescription anticholinergics for a heart or lung condition, ask your doctor if there is category of drug you can substitute. You may want to visit a naturopath physician who can instruct you in the use of herbal, or homeopathic, medicines for your conditions as well. Here are some more natural solutions to OTC’s that don’t have anticholinergic side effects:
1. Sleep aids: Try 2-3 mg of melatonin, or valerian tea before trying to sleep. Decrease/omit your use of caffeine after 3 pm. Make your bedroom noise and light free.
2. Pain relievers: Try natural aspirin like white willow bark, and/or anti-inflammatories like Omega-3’s, cherry juice. Also try hydrotherapy or acupressure/reflexology, massage to relieve arthritic joint/muscle aches and pains.
3. Antihistamines: Try the herb Butterbur which contains petasin that acts as a natural antihistamine, having similar effects as Zyrtec without drowsiness. If you have liver or kidney disease, you shouldn’t take Butterbur; however, as the alkaloids in it may further impair these organs. Garlic, probiotics, and Vitamin C also act as histamine-suppressors.
4. Bladder leakage: This condition usually results from weak pelvic muscles and/or prolapsed pelvic organs or a swollen prostate. You may want to try giving Kegal exercises a try to help strengthen the pelvic muscles. Bioidentical hormone replacement often helps women with bladder leakage. Acupuncture has also proven successful in helping the condition, as has Pilates and Yoga, and core-focus exercise that also helps strengthen the pelvic muscles. In addition, herbs like saw palmetto, nettle root, pumpkin seed extract, pygeum have been shown to help men with leaky bladder from swollen prostate conditions.
Research has proven that memory loss and/or loss of organizational abilities may be artificially created through the use of anticholinergic drugs. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and try some alternative methods to replace your usage of these drugs.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News