- Anticholinergics (a very common prescription) have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
- Anticholinergics are prescribed to treat everything from allergies to depression to Parkinson's disease.
- There are natural options that can help you avoid certain anticholinergics.
Anticholinergics and dementia
Could the medicines in your medicine cabinet increase your risk of developing dementia? Unfortunately, this is a perfectly possible scenario. New research suggests that very common drugs that are used to treat a variety of conditions such as allergies, depression, gastrointestinal problems, etc., may be linked to dementia in the elderly.
The study, conducted at the University of Nottingham in the UK, found that certain anticholinergics were linked to a 50 percent higher risk of dementia when taken daily for three years or more. These results are based on a study that analyzed data from medical records of more than 225,000 adults without dementia and nearly 59,000 with dementia. All subjects were at least 55 years old and the average age among those with dementia was 82 years.
Almost 57 percent of participants with dementia and 51 percent of participants without dementia had been prescribed one or more strong anticholinergics between one and eleven years ago. People with dementia had an average of six anticholinergic prescriptions, compared to four for people with no signs of dementia. And while the forms of these medications with milder effects had no effect on the risk of dementia, the volunteers who had taken a stronger anticholinergic for three years or more had a 50 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
Find out which drugs are anticholinergics
You may not be familiar with the term “anticholinergic” in relation to medication. But this type of pharmaceutical drug is very common, and you may have some in your home right now. They prevent the chemical acetylcholine from transmitting messages from nerve cells to other cells in the body, which affects muscle contractions and areas of the brain that are involved in learning and memory.
Mild anticholinergics include those used to treat gastrointestinal disorders and antihistamines such as Benadryl. However, these are less of concern at this point as, at least in this study, they were not found to increase the risk of dementia. (This is not intended to downplay the fact that all anticholinergics have serious side effects such as dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, and increased heart rate.) However, it has been shown that cognitive problems are associated with longer-term use of stronger forms of anticholinergics. such as antidepressants, bladder antimuscarinics, epilepsy medications, and medications used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Avoidance of anticholinergics
Before getting too stressed out after taking any of these medicines, keep in mind that there have been many subjects who have taken them who have not shown any signs of dementia. In addition, the risk was greatest in older populations who only took the stronger forms of the drug and only for long periods of time. If you have used these drugs rarely or for a short time in the past, your risk of dementia may not be increased at all.
However, anticholinergics are known to affect memory and learning, even when taken for short periods of time. However, they do not “necessarily” contribute to a “general” pattern of cognitive decline. However, the researchers suspect that due to their widespread use, up to 10 percent of dementia diagnoses are due to the effects of anticholinergics, which is amazing. With an estimated five million people with dementia in the US today, that would be 500,000 whose cognitive functions have been unnecessarily impaired.
It is important to talk to your doctor about stopping these medications if you have taken them. In many cases, non-pharmaceutical options are to be considered in their place. For example, if you have taken an antidepressant, you can stop using it under your doctor's supervision and try talk therapy and daily supplements with vitamins, amino acids, and natural remedies such as herbs like St. John's wort, ginkgo. and ashwagandha and nutraceuticals such as L-theanine and SAMe. Formulas containing these ingredients have been found to improve mood and alleviate depression without negative side effects and the risk of cognitive decline over time. And don't forget to exercise. Studies have shown that exercise works better than antidepressants at relieving depression and anxiety.