Any time you take a medication, weighing the risks and benefits of the drug is a must. And now we must ask ourselves, “Is this one of the drugs linked to dementia and memory loss?” Emerging research is finding disturbing connections between anticholinergic drugs and negative brain effects. This drug class includes popular medications used for allergies, seasickness and sleep, including diphenhydramine, dimenhydrinate and others.
And yes, you’d think some of the most popular allergy and insomnia drugs on the market would be safe, but one study outlines some frightening health risks. The JAMA Neurology study is unique because Indiana University School of Medicine researchers actually used brain imaging to detect how anticholinergic drugs impact the brain. Using MRI and PET scan imaging, researchers showed how people taking anticholinergic drugs experienced lower brain metabolism and higher brain atrophy.
This isn’t the first time researchers found a connection between anticholinergic drugs and cognitive decline. In 2015, University of Washington scientists also found the chronic use of certain anticholinergic sleep aids and hay fever meds in the increased a person’s risk of dementia. The study only found the association for people taking these drugs for 3 or more years. (More research is needed to find out if continuous or intermittent use over that time frame leads to the increased risk of dementia.)
9 Drugs That Cause Memory Loss
The thought of memory loss as a result of mediations that are supposed to be aiding your healing is a scary one. Below is a list of drugs with anticholinergic effects to watch out for when trying to preserve brain health:
1. Incontinence Drugs
Generic drug names: darifenacin, oxybutynin, tolterodine, flavoxate
- Pelvic floor muscle exercises such as kegels, help strengthen the muscles around the urethra, and are an easy way to help combat incontinence naturally. When you repeatedly clench and unclench your pelvic floor muscles, you help to improve the strength, coordination and endurance of the muscles.
- Bladder training is another natural, cost-free way to attempt to manage incontinence. The goal of bladder training is to regain control of your bathroom habits. While you may feel the urge to run to the bathroom, try to wait ten extra minutes. Once you get comfortable with this milestone, add another ten minutes. Continue this practice until you’ve reached an appropriate time between bathroom visits. Ask your healthcare provider to help you set clear goals through this process and keep a journal to help both you and your doctor track progress. Keep in mind that both bladder training and pelvic floor exercises take time to see improvements.
- Research also suggests foods high in vitamin C and foods containing beta-cryptoxanthin may help promote urinary system health. These foods include kiwi, guava, papaya, pineapple, mango, pumpkin, squash, carrots, sweet peppers, green peppers, broccoli, kale, parsley and more.
2. Muscle Relaxants
Generic drug names: cyclobenzaprine, dicyclomine, orphenadrine
- A 2011 study researched the effects of massage therapy on muscle pain and relaxation. Researchers found that massage therapy improved bone and muscle pain management in patients, demonstrating the muscle-relaxing effects of massage.
- Magnesium acts as a natural calcium blocker to regulate muscle contractions and help muscles relax. If you’re deficient in magnesium, your muscles may contract too much, causing cramps or spasms.
3. Narcotic Painkillers
Generic drug names: meperidine
Natural painkillers exist in a number of different forms. Depending on the cause and type of pain you’re experiencing, various remedies may be appropriate. Potential natural pain-killing options include:
- Dry needling
- Cryotherapy (for muscle pain)
- Chiropractic care
- Peppermint or lavender essential oils (for headaches and muscle pain)
- Graston techinque
- Epsom salt
4. Anti-Seizure Medications
Generic drug names: carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine
- Try reducing common seizure triggers, including physical and emotional stress, fatigue and lack of sleep, use of drugs or alcohol, overstimulation from lights, noise, etc. and hormonal changes.
- While the ketogenic diet really gained popularity in 2018, doctors have used the diet since the 1920s to help manage seizures.
5. Parkinson’s Medication
Generic drug names: benztropine, procyclidine, trihexyphenidyl, amantadine
- While some medication may be necessary to treat Parkinson’s, there are emerging drug-free options for some people like deep brain stimulation.
- According to the Washington University School of Medicine, exercise is the forefront of Parkinson’s treatment. Just be sure to move with caution and stretch to avoid stiffness. Water aerobics and mind-body exercises such as tai chi may be great options.
- Acupuncture may also help relieve Parkinson’s symptoms by promoting the release of neuroprotective agents.
6. Tricyclic Antidepressants
Generic drug names: amitriptyline, amoxapine, clomipramine, desipramine, doxepin, imipramine, nortriptyline, trimipramine
- Help combat symptoms of depression through lifestyle changes such as exercising and finding supportive relationships and professional guidance.
- Eat a diet rich in folate, healthy fats, probiotics and other B vitamins, or consider supplementation.
- Many studies have analyzed the effect of St. John’s Wort against major depression. One study in particular found it to have similar effectiveness as standard antidepressants.
7. Antipsychotic Drugs
Generic drug names: clozapine, olanzapine, perphenazine, quetiapine, thioridazine, trifluoperazine, loxapine, methotrimeprazine, molindone, pimozide
- One review found between 85–90 percent of residents at Soteria houses, which use a community-based recovery model for schizophrenia and related disorders focused on the growth, learning and development for patients, were able to go back to their homes and regular routines without taking medication (not even once).
- A number of supplements have also been tested against schizophrenia symptoms, with positive results — including omega-3 fatty acids in the beginning stages of schizophrenia, l-lysine, sarcosine (also called glycine or N-methylglycine) and more.
- Additionally, acupuncture has been found to have antipsychotic effects in schizophrenic patients in small studies. More research is needed to confirm these benefits, however.
8. Allergy Medications
Generic drug names: carbinoxamine, chlorpheniramine, clemastine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, promethazine, cyproheptadine
- Consuming raw, local honey before allergy season is in full swing may help ward off pesky allergy symptoms. In fact, the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology published an article that tested how pre-seasonal use of birch pollen honey affected people with birch pollen allergies. Patients taking honey “reported a 60 percent lower total symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days, and 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms.”
- Neti pots help to clear the sinuses and remove congestion, ridding the nasal passages of allergens and irritants. David Rabago, MD, has conducted several studies using a neti pot and found it beneficial for preventing and treating several upper respiratory conditions, including chronic and acute sinusitis, the common cold and seasonal allergies.
- Learn to use essential oils for allergies. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests peppermint oil acts as a relaxant and exhibits antispasmodic activity, inhibiting contractions that causes you to cough. (It’s not recommended for children under 30 months.)
- If you have a ragweed allergy, avoid melons, bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile, as they can trigger an allergic response in your system.
- Bone broth from chicken, beef or lamb helps to ease respiratory problems. It also helps reduce inflammation in the body and boosts the immune system.
- Do you know there’s an increasing awareness of the connection between gut health and immune function? That’s right. With that in mind, research has illustrated the positive effects probiotics may have on allergies.
9. Motion Sickness Medications
Generic drug names: dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, meclizine, promethazine, scopolamine
- Research suggests ginger may help prevent motion sickness — especially as a result of circular movements like in a flight simulator or on an amusement ride. Take 250 milligrams three times daily in advance. Use caution if you are taking blood-thinners.
- Research has also found that taking 50 milligrams of 5-HTP and 200 milligrams of magnesium together two times a day for three months reduced motion sickness dramatically. However, keep in mind 5-HTP is not for everyone. Before taking, talk with your healthcare provider and education yourself on known interactions, including medications commonly prescribed for diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, pain, migraines and Parkinson’s disease.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests aromatherapy with peppermint or lavender oil may also prevent the onset of motion sickness.
Anxiety & Insomnia Drugs?
While it’s too soon to say for sure, recent research found potential correlations between benzodiazepines (drugs commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety) and dementia — but more research is needed. One study followed more than one thousand elderly people for a span of 15 years. Initially, patients were dementia free. After the first three years of the study, those who started taking benzodiazepines were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who did not use the drugs. With so many factors that contributing to the formation of the disease, this is not evidence enough to determine causation. It’s probably safe to say the risk is still there, however, and with so many natural options available, it may not be worth the risk. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, try:
- Using valerian root as a sleep remedy
- Setting your temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit; this lowers your body’s internal thermometer, initiating sleepiness
- Eating melatonin-rich, inducing foods like bananas, cherries, ginger or radishes as a bedtime snack.
Final Thoughts on Over-the-Counter Drugs and Dementia Risk
While you shouldn’t stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor, it’s worth a conversation to see if your mediations include anticholinergic drugs linked to dementia. If they are, inquire about possible alternative options with fewer serious side effects, including natural remedies.