Whenever you go to take a new medication, you should always consider the pros and cons. But now we must also ask ourselves … “Is this drug linked to dementia and memory loss?” Since recent studies are finding chilling connections between anticholinergics and some damaging brain effects .

These types of drugs include some common medications to treat allergies and dizziness, and to aid sleep, such as diphenhydramine. Of course, the most logical thing would be to think that medications for allergies and insomnia should be safe to use. But this is not always the case .

The JAMA Neurology study is important as researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine used brain scans to determine how anticholinergics impact the brain.

This is not the first time researchers have found a connection between anticholinergic drugs and cognitive decline. In 2015, scientists at the University of Washington also found that chronic use of certain sleep anticholinergics and hay fever medications increased the risk of dementia and memory loss . 

The study found this connection only in people who took these drugs for 3 or more years. (More research is needed to find out if continuous or intermittent use during that period of time leads to an increased risk of memory loss.)

9 medications that cause memory loss

It is a bit scary to think that taking medications that are supposed to contribute to our well-being can cause memory loss . Here is a list of drugs with anticholinergic effects that you should take care of if you want to preserve the health of your brain:

1. Medications for incontinence

Common drugs of this type: darifenacin, oxybutynin, tolterodine, flavoxate.

Natural options:

  • Pelvic floor muscle exercises, such as Kegel exercises, help strengthen the muscles around the urethra and are an easy way to help fight urinary incontinence naturally. When you repeatedly tighten and loosen your pelvic floor muscles, you help improve their strength, coordination, and endurance.
  • Bladder training is another free, natural way to control incontinence. The goal of bladder training is to regain control of your potty habits. While you may need to rush to the bathroom at first, try waiting ten minutes. Once you feel more comfortable with this, add another ten minutes. Continue this practice until you have reached the right time between visits to the bathroom. Ask your doctor to help you set clear goals through this process and keep a journal to help you and your doctor keep track of progress.
  • Research suggests that foods rich in vitamin C and foods that contain beta-cryptoxanthin can help promote urinary system health. These foods include kiwi, guava, papaya, pineapple, mango, pumpkin, carrots, sweet peppers, green bell peppers, broccoli, kale, parsley, and more.

2. Muscle relaxants

Common drugs of this type: cyclobenzaprine, dicyclomine, orphenadrine.

Natural options:

  • A 2011 study investigated the effects massage therapy had on muscle pain and relaxation. The researchers found that massage therapy improved bone and muscle pain management in patients , demonstrating the relaxing effects of massage.
  • Magnesium acts as a natural calcium blocker to regulate muscle contractions and help muscles relax. If you have a magnesium deficiency, your muscles can contract too much and cause cramps or spasms.

3. Narcotic pain relievers

Common drugs of this type: meperidine

Natural options:

Natural pain relievers exist in several different forms. Depending on the cause and type of pain you are experiencing, various remedies may be appropriate to treat it. The best natural options for pain relief include:

  • Dry needling
  • Cryotherapy (for muscle aches)
  • Chiropractic care
  • Peppermint or lavender essential oils (for headaches and sore muscles)
  • Graston Technique
  • Epsom salt

4. Anti-seizure drugs

Common drugs of this type: carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine.

Natural options:

  • Try to reduce common seizure triggers , including physical and emotional stress, fatigue and lack of sleep, drug or alcohol use, excessive light stimulation, noise, etc. and hormonal changes.
  • While the ketogenic diet really gained popularity in 2018, it has been used by doctors since the 1920s to help control seizures.

5. Parkinson’s medication

Common drugs of this type: benztropine, procyclidine, trihexyphenidyl, amantadine.

Natural options:

  • While some medications may be necessary to treat Parkinson’s, there are emerging non-drug options for some people, such as deep brain stimulation.
  • According to the University of Washington School of Medicine , exercise is at the forefront of Parkinson’s treatment. Just be sure to move cautiously and stretch to avoid stiffness. Water aerobics and mind-body exercises like tai chi can be great options.
  • Acupuncture can also help alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms by promoting the release of neuroprotective agents.

6. Tricyclic antidepressants

Common drugs of this type: amitriptyline, amoxapine, clomipramine, desipramine, doxepin, imipramine, nortriptyline, trimipramine.

Natural options:

Combat the symptoms of depression through lifestyle changes, such as exercising, having a support network, and receiving career guidance .

Eat a diet rich in folic acid, healthy fats, probiotics, and other B vitamins, or consider taking supplements.

Many studies have looked at the effect of St. John’s wort against major depression. One study in particular found it to be similar in effectiveness to standard antidepressants.

7. Antipsychotic drugs

Common drugs of this type: clozapine, olanzapine, perphenazine, quetiapine, thioridazine, trifluoperazine, loxapine, metotrimeprazine, molindone, pimozide.

Natural options: 

  • One review found that between 85 and 90 percent of Soteria household residents who use a community-based recovery model for schizophrenia and related disorders focused on growth, learning, and development of the patients were able to return to their homes and their regular routines without taking medication (not even once).
  • Various supplements have also been tried against the symptoms of schizophrenia, with positive results. Including omega-3 fatty acids in the early stages of schizophrenia, l-lysine, sarcosine (also called glycine or N-methylglycine), and more.
  • Also, in small studies acupuncture has been found to have antipsychotic effects in schizophrenic patients. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

8. Allergy medications

Common drugs of this type: carbinoxamine, chlorpheniramine, clemastine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, promethazine, cyproheptadine.

Natural options:

  • Consuming raw local honey before allergy season is in full swing can help prevent allergy symptoms. In fact, the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology published an article that tested how using birch pollen honey before the season affected people with birch pollen allergies. Patients who consumed honey reported a 60 percent lower total symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days, and 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms.
  • Neti pots help clear the sinuses and eliminate congestion, ridding the nasal passages of allergens and irritants.
  • Learn how to use essential oils for allergies. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that peppermint oil acts as a relaxant and exhibits antispasmodic activity, inhibiting contractions that cause you to cough. (Not recommended for children under 30 months).
  • 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.
  • The broth chicken bones , beef or lamb helps relieve breathing problems. It also helps reduce inflammation in the body and stimulates the immune system .

9. Medications for motion sickness

Common drugs of this type: dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, meclizine, promethazine, scopolamine.

Natural options:

  • Research suggests that ginger may help prevent motion sickness, especially as a result of circular movements such as in a flight simulator or amusement ride. Take 250 milligrams three times a day in advance. Be careful if you are taking blood thinners .
  • Other research has also found that taking 50 milligrams of 5-HTP and 200 milligrams of magnesium together twice a day for three months dramatically reduces motion sickness. However, keep in mind that 5-HTP is not for everyone. Before taking it, talk to your doctor and learn about known interactions. Including commonly prescribed medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, pain, migraines, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that aromatherapy with peppermint or lavender oil can also prevent the onset of dizziness.

Medications for anxiety and insomnia

While it’s too early to say for sure, recent research found possible correlations between benzodiazepines (commonly prescribed drugs for insomnia and anxiety) and dementia and memory loss, but more research is still needed. 

One study followed more than 1,000 older people over a 15-year period. Initially, the patients were free of dementia. 

After the first three years of the study, those who started taking benzodiazepines were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia and memory loss than those who did not use the drugs. With so many factors contributing to disease formation, this is not enough evidence to determine causation. 

However, it’s probably safe to say that the risk is still there, and with so many natural options available, it may not be worth the risk. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try:

  • Using valerian root as a sleep remedy
  • Set the temperature of your room between 15 and 21 degrees Celsius; This will lower your body’s internal thermometer, causing drowsiness.
  • Consume inducing foods rich in melatonin such as bananas, cherries, ginger or radishes as a snack before bed.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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