You’d think some of the most popular allergy and insomnia drugs on the market would be safe, but a new study outlines some frightening health risks. The latest evidence? Drugs linked to dementia now include common anticholinergic drugs. This class of drugs includes popular medications used for allergies, seasickness and sleep, such as diphenhydramine, dimenhydrinate and ibuprofen, among others. (1) The antidepressant drug paroxetine and the pain drug meperidine also have anticholinergic effects (2).
Evidence of Drugs Linked to Dementia
This isn’t the first time researchers found a connection between anticholinergic drugs and cognitive decline. This latest study published in JAMA Neurology is unique, though. That’s because Indiana University School of Medicine researchers actually used brain imaging to detect how anticholinergic drugs impact the brain. Using MRI and PET scan imaging, researchers showed how people taking anticholinergic drugs experienced lower brain metabolism and higher brain atrophy; they also scored lower on memory tests. (3)
In 2015, University of Washington scientists also found the chronic use of certain anticholinergic sleep aids and hay fever meds in the increased a person’s risk of dementia. The study only found the association for people taking these drugs for 3 or more years. (More research is needed to find out if continuous or intermittent use over that time frame leads to the increased risk of dementia.) (4)
Other drugs with anticholinergic action include some medications containing tiotropium used to treat respiratory ailments like COPD and asthma (ipratropium bromide and tiotropium). Other anticholinergic drugs include paroxetine (for treating depression) and solifenacin-containing drugs for overactive bladder problems.
Natural Remedies for Allergies & Insomnia
If your doctor told you to take drugs with anticholinergic effects, you should consult with a medical professional before abruptly stopping. Still, it’s often possible to deal with ailments like allergies and insomnia without turning to prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Here are a few remedies to try:
- Learn to use essential oils for allergies. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests peppermint oil acts as a relaxant and exhibits antispasmodic activity, inhibiting contractions that causes you to cough. (5) (It’s not recommended for children under 30 months.) (6)
- If you have a ragweed allergy, avoid melons, bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile, as they can trigger an allergic response in your system.
- Bone broth from chicken, beef or lamb helps to ease respiratory problems. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and boosts the immune system.
- Try valerian rootas a sleep remedy with a low risk of side effects.
- Set your temperature for between 60 and 70 degrees F. This lowers your body’s internal thermometer, initiating sleepiness.
- Eat melatonin-rich, sleep-incuding foods like bananas, cherries, ginger or radishes as a bedtime snack.
Final Thoughts on Over-the-Counter Drugs and Dementia Risk
While you shouldn’t stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor, it’s worth a conversation to see if your mediations include anticholinergic drugs linked to dementia. If they are, inquire about possible alternative options with fewer serious side effects, including natural remedies.