4 Common Drugs That Shrink Your Brain

Cognitive decline, or dementia, is arguably one of the worst things that can happen to a person, and a family. No one wants to experience their memory slipping away, or their brain not working as well as it should. Therefore, prevention of this awful condition is of the utmost importance.

While it may not be possible to prevent all instances of dementia, did you know that taking certain very common over-the-counter medications may actually be increasing your risk?

I’m talking about a class of drugs known as anticholinergic drugs. A wide variety of medications fall into this category, but the following four are perhaps the most common, and the most seemingly harmless:

  • Benadryl (used to treat allergies)
  • Dimetapp (a medication for cough and cold)
  • Dramamine (taken to alleviate motion sickness)
  • Unisom (used to alleviate allergies and as a sleep aid)

Other drugs in the anticholinergic category include Paxil, a drug prescribed to treat depression and anxiety, Demerol, prescribed for chronic pain, and VESIcare, a treatment for overactive bladder. Some medications for heart disease, hypertension, and COPD are also anticholinergic. These are just a few of the many.

Research has been performed in the past linking these drugs to cognitive decline, but a recent study by researchers at Indiana School of Medicine strengthens the link significantly.

For their study, researchers examined 451 older adults, with an average age of 73. The volunteers were given PET scans and MRIs, and they were asked to complete cognitive tests, including memory examinations. Results showed that the volunteers who were taking anticholinergic drugs exhibited reduced brain sizes, as well as lowered metabolism. They also had poorer performance on short-term memory examinations, and some examinations of reasoning, problem-solving, and planning.

According to Shannon Risacher, an assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences:

“These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia… Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications, if available, when working with their older patients.”

What are the alternatives?

If you are taking any medication, it’s worth it to find out as much as you can about it. A few moments of internet research, or a call to your doctor, will let you know if it is an anticholinergic drug. If you are taking one of these drugs for a serious health condition, talk to a trusted health professional about other options you might have — options that won’t harm your brain.

In the case of allergies, colds, motion sickness, and sleep disturbances, which many people take the above-listed four anticholinergic medications for, there are many natural options available.

For allergies, local raw honey can accustom your immune system to the allergens in your area. Other natural alternatives, such as saline spray and butterbur, may also help a lot. Seasonal colds and coughs are a nuisance, but they’re nothing nature can’t handle: check out our DIY home remedy kit.

If motion sickness is ruining your travel experiences, try sipping on some fresh ginger tea, or tea made with fresh peppermint. Alternately, you can chew on a piece of fresh, peeled ginger, or some peppermint leaves. Acupressure and deep breathing can also help a lot.

Quality sleep is a vitally important part of life, but you shouldn’t have to take a potentially brain-damaging drug to get those Zs. You may just need to get your sleep cycle back on track: check out this guide. There are also a number of foods that may help, such as organic turkey, and tart cherry juice. Still tossing and turning? Try some aromatherapy with lavender or Roman chamomile essential oils.

When it comes to drugs that may mess with your brain, it’s worth it to your health to exhaust all natural options first. You’ll need your brain your entire life: best to protect it.

Tanya Rakhmilevich

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