Anticholinergic Drugs Exposed

Like so many other people this spring, I stepped outside this morning, took in a deep breath of fresh air, and promptly sneezed. It’s pollen season, so like millions of others of allergy sufferers, I popped a Zyrtec and went on with my day. According to researchers, this mindless pill-popping, for ailments from insomnia to asthma, can have serious, potentially even lethal, side-effects.

A new study conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine has all but confirmed what scientists have been speculating for decades: a link between anticholinergic drugs and an increase in cognitive impairment and risk of dementia. Anticholinergic drugs describe any drugs that block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from entering the peripheral nervous system. While you may not know off the top of your head what drugs are included in this category, anticholinergic drugs are more common than you might think. Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat a range of disorders and include a wide variety of common over the counter drugs, such as Tylenol PM, Benadryl, and Zyrtec.

In order to study the effect of these drugs on the brain, scientists surveyed a sample group of 400 people with an average age of 73. Sixty of them were taking at least one over the counter medication with medium or high anticholinergic properties. The subjects underwent PET scans, MRIs, and various cognitive and memory tests in order to compare their brain activity, structure, and metabolism.

According to the results, the subjects taking anticholinergic medication scored significantly lower on short-term memory, problem-solving, verbal reasoning, and planning tests. Subjects were also found to have reduced brain sizes and larger ventricles (or cavities in the brain). In addition, subjects taking the abovementioned drugs also showed decreased rates of glucose metabolism, a significant marker of function and activity in the brain. Even more worrying, lower rates of glucose metabolism were also found in the hippocampus region of the brain, a region of the brain, which could be an indication of Alzheimer’s.

These studies were conducted on the elderly who had been consistently taking anticholinergic drugs for 60-90 days, so if you take a Benadryl twice a year, chances are you’re going to be okay. However, it still raises important questions concerning the medication we put into ours bodies daily.

–Natalie Bachman, Staff Writer 


Posted by on April 21, 2016. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry