January 31, 2023
Annapolis, US 36 F

Common Over-The-Counter Drugs Found to Cause Brain Harm

Benadryl, Tylenol PM, and Dramamine are among the common OTC (over-the-counter) drugs that have been show to cause brain shrinkage (atrophy) and dementia. In a study published this month in JAMA Neurology, researchers have linked memory problems and decreased brain function to a family of drugs, called anticholinergic drugs, which are some of the most common over-the-counter drugs. 

The JAMA article published April 18th found reduced brain sizes among those taking anticholinergic drugs. They also were able to show that the brain was not using glucose normally, suggesting less activity.

The study specifically looked at 451 people, with an average age of 73.  Researchers then tested for memory, cognition and also used brain imaging (PET and MRI scans). The tests showed that people taking anticholinergic drugs:

  • Performed worse on short-term memory tests.
  • Performed worse on verbal reasoning, planning and problem-solving.
  • Had lowered brain activity — both in the brain overall and in area associated with memory.
  • Had diminished brain volumes.

This is not the first study to identify anticholinergic drugs, including over-the-counter medications. A 2013 study found that drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect could cause cognitive problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. Drugs with a weaker effect could cause cognitive impairment within 90 days.

“Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications, if available, when working with their older patients,” said Shannon Risacher, an assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine. 

Older people who take medicines to treat conditions such as urinary incontinence, depression, asthma, hayfever and sleeping problems should also be warned that their prescription medications may have anticholinergic effects, which in turn can worsen or speed up the process of dementia.  Evolve is happy to provide this resource from Aging Brain Care, to see if the medications you are on have anti-cholinergic activity–and if so, how much. 

But before anyone panics, Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, is quoted in a WebMD April 20th article:

“This small study adds to evidence for an association between anticholinergic medicines, memory difficulties and changes in brain biology, but from this research we can’t conclude that this particular type of drug causes dementia.

“Anticholinergics can have many beneficial effects and these need to be balanced against potential side effects, but anybody concerned about their current medication should speak to a doctor before stopping a course of treatment.”

Evolve Medical Clinics reminds readers to never start or stop taking a medication without first consulting your doctor. If you do not have a Primary Care doctor or even if you just would like to come in for a consultation, Evolve Medical is open 6 days per week and visits can be scheduled on-line here or by calling 844-322-4222. 

Evolve Medical Clinics provides primary care and urgent care to Annapolis, Severna Park, Arnold, Davidsonville, Gambrills, Crofton, Edgewater, Pasadena and Glen Burnie.
Evolve Medical Clinics provides primary care and urgent care to Annapolis, Severna Park, Arnold, Davidsonville, Gambrills, Crofton, Edgewater, Pasadena and Glen Burnie.
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