OTC Drugs Linked to Cognitive Impairment

Did You Know…both prescription and OTC drugs are known to cause irreversible cognitive impairment?

Just because you don’t need a prescription for a drug, doesn’t mean it’s safe.  For example, many popular over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as the pain-reliever Motrin and anti-ulcer drugs such as Tagamet, Zantex, and Prilosec, used to be carefully controlled pharmaceutical drugs only available by prescription.  All of these can cause serious damage when taken excessively.

Of even greater concern, however, may be a category of prescription and OTC drugs linked to long-term and irreversible cognitive damage.  These medications, called anticholinergic drugs, suppress a nervous system transmitter called acetylcholine, prohibiting it from binding with its receptor in nerve cells.

OTC anticholinergic drugs are typically nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, and other sleep aids, including:

  • Excedrin PM
  • Tylenol PM
  • Nytol
  • Unisom
  • Sominex
  • Benadryl
  • Dramamine

Prescription anticholinergic drugs used to treat depression and incontinence and relieve pain include:

  • Detrol
  • Paxil
  • Demerol
  • Elavil

Alarming Findings 

According to the University of California, San Francisco, anticholinergic drugs cause acute cognitive impairment in people with dementia, and may even cause hallucinations.

 A 2013 study of 3,690 older adults published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia showed that drugs with strong anticholinergic effects caused cognitive impairment when used regularly for 60 days.
 A similar impact was demonstrated when drugs with weak anticholinergic effects were taken for 90 days.

“We found that a high anticholinergic burden—either from one or multiple drugs—plus 2 or 3 months of continuous exposure to that high burden approximately doubled the risk of developing cognitive impairment,” said Noll Campbell, Pharm.D., study co-author and Regenstrief Institute investigator.  “Millions of older adults are taking sleeping pills or prescription drugs year after year that may be impacting their organizational abilities and memory.”

The Alzheimer’s Society reports that 10% of people ages 50 and up regularly use anticholinergic drugs, and nearly half use more than one!  Experts warn that seniors in particular are the ones who should be avoiding anticholinergic drugs the most.

Other side effects beyond memory impairment include dry mouth, low blood pressure, concentration problems, and increased agitation.

Alternative Treatments 

For all of these reasons, natural health experts say it’s best to seek alternative treatments for your conditions.  If, for instance, you suffer from insomnia, you may want to consider herbal sleep aids such as melatonin and valerian, or breathe in a diffuser filled with essential oils lavender, ylang ylang, and hops.  You can even spritz magnesium oil on the bottoms of your feet to help yourself relax in the evening hours.

If you are battling incontinence, then increase levels of magnesium and vitamin D, cut back on the caffeine, stay hydrated with water, and consider enlisting the help of an acupuncturist, who can recommend herbs for incontinence in addition to acupuncture treatments.

If depression is dulling your days, consider adding the following natural supplements to your diet:

  • Fish oil
  • SAMe
  • Folic acid
  • B vitamins
  • St. John’s Worts