Most of the drugs that cause MCI are "anti-cholinergic" -- they inhibit the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. However, only a few of these drugs are officially classified as anti-cholinergic. The only official anti-cholinergic drugs are mostly used for relieving intestinal cramps or bladder irritability, but there are 17 additional types of drugs that may also have anti-cholinergic effects.
According to Dr. Leo Galland, writing in the Huffington Post:
"The list includes commonly used drugs like antihistamines, acid blockers and antidepressants. Unfortunately, many doctors and pharmacists are unaware of the anti-cholinergic properties of these medications."
An anti-cholinergic is a substance that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACH) in your nervous system and brain. The effects of these drugs are short-term, and your body quickly reverts back to receiving acetylcholine once the effects of the drugs wear off.
But as the Dr. Leo Galland discusses in his Huffington Post article, longer-term use of these compounds can damage your body’s sensitive neuron receptors, where the ACH is processed by your body, leading to mild cognitive impairment (MCI), memory loss and perhaps may even cause or exacerbate already existing degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
Do You Really Know What You’re Taking?
Anti-cholinergic drugs are sold both over the counter and by prescription, and represent an ongoing risk to you for two main reasons: First, many compounds with anti-cholinergic effects do not list this fact on their label, leading you and your doctor to mistakenly assume that many common OTC and prescription medicines represent no risk to ACH production or transmission.
Secondly, you may be combining several of these drugs without knowing that their effects are synergistic and cumulative.
In other words, one dose of an over the counter cold medicine combined with two prescription drugs that all have anti-cholinergic effects will put a TRIPLE strain on your acetylcholine receptors in your neurons.
For an exhaustive list of all the OTC and prescription medicines described by Dr. Galland, please see his original article. As you will see, a very large number of medications have been confirmed or are highly suspected of having anti-cholinergic effects.
What is Acetylcholine and Why are Healthy Receptors Important?
Acetylcholine (ACH) is an ester of acetic acid and choline, which is responsible for many important communications inside your body at a cellular level. Mainly, it helps your heart and all your body’s muscles to function optimally by keeping them open to the stimulation they need to expand and contract.
ACH also has been implicated in allowing your brain to achieve REM sleep, as well as playing a vital role in the functioning of neurons throughout your brain and nervous system.
In short, when your production of acetylcholine is impaired or blocked, or when your neurons have difficulty receiving this vital neurotransmitter, cognitive, muscle and other nervous system functions can begin to suffer. And long-term use of anti-cholinergic drugs have now been linked to having an impact on the optimal functioning of your body’s cellular receptors of this vital neurotransmitter, especially in your brain.
ACH is a complicated neurotransmitter because it has the ability to both slow the heart rate, while at other times it is able to increase and stimulate muscle response -- as in the case of sexual arousal.
As is typical for the inner workings of your body, the balance of this neurotransmitter is maintained by delicate feedback loops taking place automatically and outside of the control of your conscious mind. These internal cellular mechanisms, it should go without saying, often work best when they are not impaired by synthetic chemicals you put into your body to try to control or weaken them.
ACH and Sexual Arousal
Sexual arousal occurs not just in the genitals, but in your whole body and especially in your brain. If you are a man then it actually begins when your brain sends impulses down your spinal cord and to the nerves in your penis. These impulses trigger the production of nitric oxide. The neurotransmitter that activates the actual sexual message is ACH.
ACH also seems to control sexual behavior through its activity in your brain.
For women, ACH is also a very important part of sexual function. With too little ACH, sexual activity diminishes. ACH is involved in the buildup toward orgasm and the urethral and vaginal contractions that occur during orgasm.
Enhancing your ACH Levels Without Drugs
One way to safely and effectively enhance ACH levels in the body is to take supplements of choline (1000 to 3000 mg) and vitamin B5 (500 to 1500 mg) so that your body produces more ACH. In the next few weeks we will be releasing Krill IQ which not only has krill but phosphatidly choline and phosphatidyl serine; another important brain nutrient.
Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, actually seems to enhance your muscle endurance by two routes. The first is by increasing ACH and the second is its role in the energy producing Krebs cycle.
Drugs with Anti-cholinergic Properties
Besides enhancing your body’s natural ability to produce ACH, you will also want to avoid anti-cholinergic compounds that limit or inhibit your body’s ability to process the ACH that your muscles and brain use to communicate at a cellular level.
Dr. Galland describes the ingredients you should look to avoid or minimize if you have concerns about anti-cholinergic effects:
“Some of these are available without prescription and may be found alone or combined with other drugs, especially in over-the-counter cold and headache remedies. Don't just rely on the product's name. Check all ingredients. Bring this information to your doctor. Do not discontinue the use of any prescription drug without your doctor's approval.”
Again, for an extensive list of OTC medicines and prescription drugs that have anti-cholinergic effects, please see Dr. Gallands article.