Antidepressants and antihistamines are among the most common types of medications people take, and they belong to a class of drugs known as anticholinergics. These drugs can treat a variety of health problems, including COPD, asthma, depression, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, overactive bladder, and the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Although they can be effective, a large new study has shown that if you take them, you might just be trading one problem for another, possibly bigger one: dementia.
Although people who suffer from depression may be desperate to get relief from this illness that can have such a negative impact on daily life, tricyclic antidepressants fall into this category, so it’s important to pay attention the concerning new findings if you take medications like Elavil, Deptran, Sinequan, or Silenor. The same can be said for antihistamines like Benadryl, among other drugs.
The study, which was published in BMJ, involved more than 40,000 dementia patients and more than 283,000 people who don’t have dementia and followed them from 2006 to 2015. They found that people who had dementia had a greater likelihood of having taken class 3 anticholinergic drugs prior to developing the illness.
These medications block the actions of acetylcholine in the brain, which can prevent it from causing involuntary movements in the muscles in the lungs, urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, and other parts of the body.
Although the higher risk varied depending on the drugs, some of them raised the risk by 30 percent. Not every anticholinergic drug had the effect, but using some of them even as far back as 20 years raised a person’s risk of dementia later on. Generally speaking, they believe that a person aged 65 to 70 sees their risk of dementia increase by 19 percent if they’ve used anticholinergic antidepressants. The association with dementia goes up with greater levels of exposure to the meds.
The study was praised by experts for its strength and using U.K. healthcare databases rather than relying on patient recall, which isn’t always dependable.
The drugs are believed to have this effect because anticholinergic medications lower the levels of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain, which is a crucial messenger in memory pathways. This is a known effect that already stops some doctors from prescribing such drugs to older and more frail patients.
Other studies have reached a similar conclusion about anticholinergic drugs
In a different study involving nearly 3,500 people, researchers reached a similar conclusion, finding that those who used anticholinergic drugs had a greater likelihood of developing dementia, and their risk increased according to their cumulative dose. For example, taking such meds for three years or longer was linked to a 54 percent rise in dementia risk compared to taking the same dose for less than three months.
Experts say such findings are a good reminder that people should evaluate all the medications they’re taking from time to time to see if they are really working for you. For example, if you’re taking antidepressants and are still depressed, the medications may not be helping. Many of these drugs have safer alternatives, including non-medication approaches that could make a difference safely and effectively.
With the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s expected to triple by 2050, it’s important to do all you can to minimize your risk – and that includes staying away from anticholinergic drugs if possible.
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