Alzheimer’s Drug Aricept 23 (Donepezil) #4 on the List of Top 10 Most Dangerous Drugs

Susanna Sisson's picture
Alzheimer's Disease Treatment Drug

Also see nutritional changes you can make now to possibly prevent Alzheimer's disease.


Alzheimer’s is an insidious and heartbreaking disease often misrecognized or misdiagnosed as “normal aging” or mere “forgetfulness”. Roughly 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and half of people age 85 or older have the disease already. About 60-80% of the cases of dementia are related to Alzheimers. [1] This disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Alzheimer’s is characterized by the build-up of neurotoxic proteins in the brain known as beta amyloid which kill brain cells by forming plaque within the vessels and tissues. This build-up occurs slowly and the more brain cells are killed the worse the symptoms and effects of Alzheimer’s.

One drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Aricept 23 was approved by the FDA despite warnings by the agency’s own researchers. Aricept has been recalled in other countries such as Canada [5] and lawsuits for injuries are being filed.

The Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai Co., Ltd. developed Aricept. They then partnered with the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc. to distribute Aricept in the United States. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for mild-to-moderate dementia characteristic to Alzheimer’s disease at 5 mg and 10 mg doses, then for moderate-to-severe cases of Alzheimer’s in 2006 at 10 mg, and finally at 23 mg for severe cases of Alzheimer’s in 2010. According to SDI Health’s Vector One national database, in 2010 Eisai and Pfizer earned $1.5 billion in Aricept sales in the United States based on six million prescriptions, making it a very lucrative drug. SDI keeps a close eye on the drug industry. [6,7]

Dr. Thomas Finucane, professor of medicine in the Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and staff physician at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, stated that “Cholinesterase inhibitors such as Aricept have gained multibillion-dollar success due primarily to two factors: the understandable desperation of those who care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and a relentless promotional campaign by drug companies.” Dr. Finucane is a co-petitioner with Public Citizen to ban Aricept 23. [10,11]

The LA Times reported that according to Dr. Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz of Dartmouth Medical College, ”Aricept was devised to serve commercial claims and was approved by the FDA despite poor showings in company sponsored tests.”

More Common Side effects of Aricept 23 include: [3,4]

• Diarrhea
• loss of appetite
• muscle cramps
• nausea
• trouble in sleeping
• unusual tiredness or weakness
• vomiting - which occurred more than 3.5 times as often in patients taking the 23-mg dose than in those taking the 10-mg dose. This is a particularly dangerous side effect for patients with Alzheimer’s disease because it can lead to pneumonia, massive gastrointestinal bleeding [2] esophageal rupture, and even death. [11]

Less common side effects of Aricept 23:

• Abnormal dreams
• constipation
• dizziness
• drowsiness
• fainting
• frequent urination
• headache
• joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
• mental depression
• pain
• unusual bleeding or bruising
• weight loss

Rare side effects:

• Black, tarry stools
• bloating
• bloody or cloudy urine
• blurred vision
• burning, prickling, or tingling sensations
• cataract
• chills
• clumsiness or unsteadiness
• confusion
• cough
• decreased urination
• difficult or painful urination
• dryness of mouth
• eye irritation
• fever
• flushing of skin
• frequent urge to urinate
• high or low blood pressure
• hives
• hot flashes
• increase in sexual desire or performance
• increased heart rate and breathing
• increased sweating
• increased urge to urinate during the night
• irregular heartbeat – this symptom along with myocardial infarction appears to have been grossly underestimated as a side effect of the drug
• itching
• loss of bladder control
• loss of bowel control
• mood or mental changes, including abnormal crying, aggression, agitation, delusions, irritability, nervousness, or restlessness
• nasal congestion
• pain in chest, upper stomach, or throat
• problems with speech
• runny nose
• severe thirst
• shortness of breath
• sneezing
• sore throat
• sunken eyes
• tightness in chest
• tremor
• troubled breathing
• wheezing
• wrinkled skin
• Incidence not known
• Back, leg, or stomach pains
• bleeding gums
• chest pain or discomfort
• coma
• convulsions
• dark urine
• difficulty breathing
• fast or irregular heartbeat
• fatigue
• general body swelling
• general tiredness and weakness
• high fever
• increased thirst
• indigestion
• light-colored stools
• muscle pain or cramps
• nausea and vomiting
• nosebleeds
• pains in stomach, side, or abdomen, possibly radiating to the back
• pale skin
• rash
• seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
• seizures
• severe muscle stiffness
• severe nausea
• slow or irregular heartbeat
• stomach pain
• sweating
• swelling of face, ankles, or hands
• tiredness
• unusually pale skin
• upper right abdominal or stomach pain
• yellow eyes and skin


Symptoms of overdose

• Convulsions (seizures)
• increased sweating
• increased watering of mouth
• increasing muscle weakness
• low blood pressure
• severe nausea
• severe vomiting
• slow heartbeat
• troubled breathing
• vomiting -

At one of the specific warnings of Aricept is that it may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert. [3,4] So WHY would you give a drug that impairs thinking to someone who already has impaired thinking or memory problems?

“There is NO EXCUSE for manipulating vulnerable patients, desperate family members and their doctors to use a product that is most likely to cause net harm,” say Drs. Woloshin and Schwartz.

Ways to Prevent Effects of Aging
In order to understand and evaluate preventative measures for the growing population of senior citizens it might be helpful to study populations and cultures of people who do not seem to acquire or suffer from certain diseases linked to aging. Scientists around the world have identified such groups of people and their health and wellness practices. They have identified “Blue Zones” where people live longer and do not exhibit the “usual” physical or mental deterioration associated with aging. [17.18]

Of those Okinawa, Japan has a lower incidence of many diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. They also have a diet in which they eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as brown seaweed which is listed in the book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. [20]

One particular study on fucoidan, a nutrient found in brown seaweed was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience and found that fucoidan inhibits cellular and neurotoxic effects of beta-amyloid. [13]

Another study published in the China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica found that cathepisn D, an acid protease active in intracellular protein breakdown and involved in the pathogenesis of several diseases such as breast cancer and possibly Alzheimer disease. The researchers found that fucoidan, a component of brown seaweed, inhibits the progress of apoptosis or cell death associated in Alzheimer’s. They determined that fucoidan may halt or even prevent the progression of the disease. [14]

Growing evidence links brain health to heart health. Your brain is nourished by one of your body’s richest networks of blood vessels. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many of the same conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol and at the core, inflammation.

Fucoidan has been shown to have potent health benefits in cardiovascular disease (CVD). [15,16] Fucoidan has been shown to decrease inflammation associated with CVD and other chronic degenerative disease processes, including atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and Alzheimer's disease. [19]

In addition, brown seaweed contains organic iodine which may be a factor in a lower incidence in Japan and other “blue zones” of both Alzheimer’s disease and of hypothyroidism, one of the hallmark symptoms of which is “brain fog”. According to Dr. David Brownstein, author of Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It, who has treated over 6,000 patients with thyroid issues and symptoms such as brain fog, “19 out of 20 are iodine deficient”. Once the deficiency is corrected the brain fog lifts.

With regard to diagnosis and allopathic treatment of Alzheimers’s disease, it is vitally important to correctly diagnose, rule out other possible causes of symptoms including pharmaceutical treatment of other health issues as possible causes of dementia and to consider nutritional and mineral deficiencies. As to Aricept, in my opinion as a medical professional, any drug that has so many side effects and shows very little effectiveness should be avoided at all cost.

12. Fisher AA, Davis MW. Prolonged QT interval, syncope, and delirium with galantamine. Ann Pharmacotherapy 2008;42:278-283.