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A Link Between Long-term Use Of Benadryl, Paxil, Advil PM & Other Anticholinergics Linked To Dementia

Kimberly England's picture
Benadryl, Paxil, Advil Dementia

A few studies by top Medical Schools have concluded serious concerns of popular medications are linked to dementia.


The published findings found that anticholinergic drugs or medications are more harmful as the study time progresses with individuals. They outline some frightening health risks to users.

The drugs linked to dementia now include common anticholinergic drugs including popular medications like:

• Benadryl
• Dramamine
• Paxil
• Advil PM, Tylenol PM, ZQuil
• Unison among others

In 2015, The School of Pharmacy, University of Washington found a persistent link in a large group health study study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which found the chronic use of certain anticholinergic sleep aids and hay fever medications increased a person’s risk of dementia. Continuous or intermittent use over a longer time frame may need more research. The study used more rigorous methods, longer follow-up (more than seven years), and better assessment of medication use via pharmacy records (including substantial nonprescription use) to confirm this previously reported link. It is the first study to show a dose response: linking more risk for developing dementia to higher use of anticholinergic medications. And it is also the first to suggest that dementia risk linked to anticholinergic medications may persist—and may not be reversible even years after people stop taking these drugs.

“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, the first author of the report, which tracks nearly 3,500 Group Health seniors participating in the long-running Adult Changes in Thought (ACT), a joint Group Health–University of Washington (UW) study funded by the National Institute on Aging. “And they should tell their health care providers about all their over-the-counter use,” she added.

Paxil and these other antidepressants, including benzodiazepines are known to cause antidepressant induced damage to the brain causing dementia, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, insomnia, and more according to the Abstract of the study.

Antihistamines called diphenhydramine, commonly found in popular sleep aids such as ZQuil, Advil PM, and Tylenol PM can cause dementia and irreparable harm. Diphenhydramine is an anticholinergic drug. Diphenhydramine is an anticholinergic drug. Recently released research shows that older adults who take anticholinergic drugs on a regular basis performed worse on tests measuring important skills such as short-term memory loss, problem solving, planning and verbal reasoning. MRI scans indicated that the brains of these individuals shrank, wile PET scans showed their brains were not as active.

In addition, people who took anticholinergic drugs showed lower glucose metabolism levels in their brains overall and in the hippocampus, which is strongly tied to memory and one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s. Their brain volumes were smaller overall, while the cavities inside their brains were bigger.

Other drugs with anticholinergic action include some medications containing tiotropium used to treat respiratory ailments like COPD and Asthma (Atrovent) (Spiriva) and solifenacin- containing drugs like Vesicare for overactive bladder problems.

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Anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine. This substance transmits messages in the nervous system. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory. In the rest of the body, it stimulates muscle contractions. Anticholinergic drugs include some antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, medications to control overactive bladder, and drugs to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

A team led by Shelley Gray, a pharmacist at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, tracked nearly 3,500 men and women ages 65 and older who took part in Adult Changes in Thought (ACT), a long-term study conducted by the University of Washington and Group Health, a Seattle healthcare system. They used Group Health’s pharmacy records to determine all the drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, that each participant took the 10 years before starting the study. Participants’ health was tracked for an average of seven years. During that time, 800 of the volunteers developed dementia. When the researchers examined the use of anticholinergic drugs, they found that people who used these drugs were more likely to have developed dementia as those who didn’t use them. Moreover, dementia risk increased along with the cumulative dose. Taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.

The ACT results add to mounting evidence that anticholinergics aren’t drugs to take long-term if you want to keep a clear head and keep your head clear into old age. The body’s production of acetylcholine diminishes with age, so blocking its effects can deliver a double whammy to older people. It’s not surprising that problems with short-term memory, reasoning, and confusion lead the list of side effects of anticholinergic drugs, which also include drowsiness, dry mouth, urine retention, and constipation. Read more about the study (here at Harvard University's website).

According to JAMA Internal Medicine, 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.

Taking over-the-counter allergy and sleep medications may only mask the root cause of your health issue instead of a cure. You may temporarily stop sneezing or get that long overdue good night sleep, but you may lose part of your memory in the process. The symptoms may also come back or can mask into another symptom. It can put you back at the doctor’s office for medication from another health issue. When the new medication doesn’t work, the prescription is increased, decreased or changed altogether and another health issue cycle may begin. Each time, the brain is inflicted with trauma from the changes and more than likely, you’re now getting depressed from being sick all the time, brain fog and feeling low. You then take an anti-depressant or benzodiazepine to help with your newly discovered depression and find that your health situation and depression are increasingly getting worse. As time goes on, you realize that you must break the cycle of feeling sick and increased depression. So, you make a calculated risk to seek your doctor’s expertise to dial down or stop the antidepressant or benzodiazepine only to discover this too inflicted more trauma to the brain. The insanity of it all seems confusing to say the least, but if one looks at the billion-dollar industry of pharmaceuticals, the picture becomes very clear.

Do we stick to the insanity of the norm, which is not so normal anymore, or attempt a simple solution which is already in front of us that does very little to no harm?

It’s often possible to deal with ailments like allergies and insomnia without turning to prescription and over-the-counter drugs. "One of the best ways to make sure you’re taking the most effective drugs is to dump all your medications — prescription and nonprescription — into a bag and bring them to your next appointment with your primary care doctor," according to an article published by Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch. There are so many other alternatives though. Here are a few remedies to try:

Deep Roots at Home recommends natural homeopathic allergy remedies. Here are a few below.
Peppermint Oil: Studies show that peppermint oil acts as an expectorant and provides relief for allergies as well as colds, cough, sinusitis, asthma and bronchitis. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology states peppermint oil acts as a relaxant and exhibits antispasmodic activity, inhibiting contractions that causes you to cough. (4) Remedy: Diffuse 5 drops of peppermint essential oil (EO). To reduce inflammation, take 1-2 drops of peppermint EO internally once a day by adding it to a glass of water, cup of tea, or a smoothie.

Eucalyptus Oil: Studies have shown us that Eucalyptus Oil opens up the lungs and bronchial tubes fast thereby allowing a refreshing flow of oxygen to calm the anxious patient. It lowers inflammation and improves all symptoms of allergies. Remedies: Diffuse 5 drops of Eucalyptus EO at home or apply it topically in a carrier oil to chest or temples. To clear nasal passages and break up congestion, pour a cup of boiling water into a bowl and add 1-2 drops of eucalyptus EO. Then cover your head with a towel over the bowl and inhale deeply for 5-10 minutes.

Basil Oil (linalool CT) (5 star reviews): Basil Oil reduces the inflammatory response of allergens, supports the adrenal glands and helps detoxify the body of bacteria and viruses. Remedy: Take 1 drop of basil EO internally per day by adding it to warm soup, salad dressing, or another dish. To support the respiratory system, dilute 2-3 drops of basil oil into 1/4 tsp. of coconut oil and apply it topically to chest, underarms, back of neck, temples or soles of feet.

There are many other alternatives available, but everyone will be different according to their needs.

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