What’s in Your Medication?

Barbara Tritz
· June 10, 2023 ·

3 minutes

Dementia made worse by medications


Did you know this? Your medications may have side effects that impact your brain health.

Please read the labels to be aware of what’s in your medication. Anticholinergic drugs are medications that block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. About 600 medications block the action of acetylcholine. We take these medications for a variety of reasons such as for sleep, allergies, depression, psychiatric disorders, urinary incontinence, and Parkinson’s. The problem with anticholinergic medication use is the risk it poses in increasing the likelihood of having dementia.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are secreted by neurons that allow signals to be moved from cell to cell or muscle fiber or nerve fiber. We cannot live without them. Think of them as the cell phone network in the body. Anticholinergic drugs block this transmission of the cell to cell signaling.

Get Sweet Sleep

I used Benadryl with the anticholinergic medication diphenhydramine (because it makes you drowsy) to help me return to sleep when I had sleep maintenance insomnia when in my 40s (before I knew about this, and before I knew about sleep apnea and its connection to insomnia). My doctor recommended it to help me stay asleep. I assumed, since it was an over-the-counter (OTC) medication and because she recommended it, that it was safe to use. Luckily, I stopped before this study in 2015 came out. (I still have worries as to what I did to my brain and memory.)

Full Disclosure

As I looked deeper into this I became even more concerned. So many of my patients were using Benadryl in the same way I had been yet they never listed it on their medical history. I asked them about sleep and inquired as to what they were doing to help them stay asleep. Then they admitted to taking some type of sleep aid. Please do share all your medications – prescription or over-the-counter as well as any herbal remedies you take on your medical histories. Dental professionals – both dentists and dental hygienists need to know this information to make safe and informed decisions about what to recommend for your oral health.

Read Labels

When I have a question, I go to the source. I call companies and make field trips to the store. I investigated these medications. No OTC medications with anticholinergic ingredients have any type of warnings on them. Medications like Advil PM, Tylenol PM, Any PM med, Unisom, and Nytol all contain anticholinergic medication and have no warnings on the label to use for only a short time period. (There are so many other medications containing anticholinergic drugs. I have not read all those labels.)

New research reconfirms earlier studies: one study showed that those who took anticholinergic drugs for ten years had a 47% increase in mild cognitive impairment (MCI). And taking two or more of these medications for even three years increased the likelihood of MCI by 54%. Bottom line- there is an increased risk of cognitive decline and brain atrophy with continued use.

Side Effect Risk Tradeoffs

As with every medication, there are tradeoffs. They all come with side effects. Please be aware of the side effects by doing your own research, and decide with your doctor if the benefits outweigh the risks. Today’s post was to create awareness and alert you to some information you might not be aware of concerning brain health.

Sweet Dreams

Sleep Deeply, Be Well.

Sleep is not a luxury. We need deep healthy sleep to be our healthiest best selves. Find the root causes of any sleep problems and heal that. Talk with your primary care provider to address other medications and see if there might be alternatives to consider. Read labels and be an educated consumer. Don’t assume. YOU know what happens when you assume…

More on oral health issues and how they affect the brain tomorrow.

Baby your brain. Thanks for reading.

Barbara Tritz BRDH

Queen of Dental Health and Brain Health Hygienist

Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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