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Common OTC drugs can cause dementia

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

anticholinergic medications and dementia

Story at-a-glance -

  • Anticholinergic drugs block acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that performs important functions in your brain and peripheral and central nervous systems
  • In your brain, acetylcholine plays a key role in attention, concentration, memory formation and consolidation, which is why anticholinergic drugs can cause symptoms identical to dementia
  • Research assessing effects of anticholinergics found statistically significant associations between dementia and anticholinergic antidepressants, antiparkinson drugs, antipsychotic drugs, bladder antimuscarinics and antiepileptic drugs
  • Many common over-the-counter drugs contain anticholinergic ingredients, including antihistamine medications sold under the brand names Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton, sleep aids such as Tylenol PM, Aleve PM and Unisom, the motion sickness medication Dramamine and various cold medicines
  • In the case of Benadryl and many sleep aids the anticholinergic ingredient in question is diphenhydramine. In Chlor-Trimeton it’s chlorpheniramine; in many cold medicines, it’s pyrilamine

According to the latest statistics for 2019, 14% of Americans aged 71 or older have some form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease, which is the most severe and lethal form of dementia, affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans. Of those, 81% are over the age of 75, but approximately 200,000 are younger than 65. In all, 1 in 10 seniors over the age of 65 has Alzheimer's dementia.

Due to the high prevalence of dementia and the scarcity of effective conventional treatments, prevention is paramount. I've written many articles on this topic, highlighting several of the most important prevention strategies, including dietary recommendations and the need for exercise, sun exposure and avoidance of toxins.


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