Prescription drugs cause over 100,000 deaths per year and cause another 1.5 million people to experience side effects so severe they must be hospitalized. Shockingly, adverse drug reactions are now the fourth leading cause of death in the US. (1)
This is in part due to the problem of “polypharmacy” — the taking of several drugs at once that interact in negative and sometimes unexpected ways.
Every medication carries the risk of side effects. When more than one drug at a time is taken, the risks increase exponentially. When you consider that the average 65-year-old takes 5 medications (2), you can imagine how widespread the problem of polypharmacy is.
Medications and Your Brain
Armon Neel is a board-certified geriatric pharmacist who has devoted his career to guiding health professionals and older adults in the appropriate use of medication. He writes AARP’s “Ask the Pharmacist” column.
In his book, Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?, he contends that as many as 3 out of 4 Alzheimer’s cases could be caused by drug interactions. This is a stunning indictment!
He points out that polypharmacy becomes a greater concern as you grow older. Not only are seniors taking more medications, but the ones they take aren’t handled by the body as well as when they were young.
Livers and kidneys no longer work as efficiently and have a harder time breaking down and eliminating drugs from the system. This is why some people who have been on a drug for years might suddenly find it causes side effects as they age.
Many medications can lead to a false-positive diagnosis for dementia or Alzheimer’s. One way common mechanism for this is the reduction in the brain’s level of acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter involved with memory and learning. This can lead to symptoms that resemble dementia including mental confusion, delirium, blurred vision, memory loss, and hallucinations.
Avoid the “Anti-” Drugs
Here are three of the worst-offending categories of drugs to watch out for:
- If you take a drug that starts with “anti”, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics, or antihypertensives, it’s likely that it will affect your acetylcholine levels, and your brain function.
- Sleeping pills are notorious for causing memory loss. Ambien so commonly induces memory loss that some have coined it “the amnesia drug”. There are better ways to get to sleep!
- Probably the single worst group of drugs for your brain would be the statin drugs, which are used to lower cholesterol levels. These drugs cause memory loss so frequently that they are now required to state they can cause memory loss on the label.
Another frightening side effect of statins is that they can lead to diabetes. Dr. Stephen Sinatra, founder of Heart MD Institute, cites the alarming statistic that 48% of women who take these medications become diabetic.
The Cholesterol Lie
We’ve been brainwashed to believe that low cholesterol is a marker of good health, but this turns out to not be true.
Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the best-selling book Grain Brain, points out that low cholesterol level increases the risk of suicide, depression, and dementia. The risk of dementia is reduced by 70% in those with high cholesterol. You read that right – high cholesterol reduces risk of dementia.
Dr. Duane Graveline, a medical doctor and NASA astronaut, wrote an eye-opening account of the dangers of one popular statin drug in Lipitor Thief of Memory. He experienced two bouts of serious memory loss diagnosed as transient global amnesia (TGA). Ultimately, this was traced to his taking Lipitor.
He is now on a different kind of mission — to warn of the perils of cholesterol lowering drugs. You can find over 250 articles on cholesterol, statin drugs, and their side effects on his website SpaceDoc.com.
Steps to Take If You’re on Multiple Meds
Fortunately, drug-induced dementia can usually be reversed just by stopping the offending medication. So if you or someone you love takes medications and suspects they might be causing cognitive problems, here are some steps Armon Neel recommends you can take:
- Take inventory of what you are taking. Write down every medication, dosage, and when you started taking it.
- Talk to your doctor about what you are taking, how much you are taking, and why you are taking it. If you have more than one physician, have this conversation with each.
- Ask if there are any non-drug approaches you can take instead. Find out the consequences of stopping any medication. If there are any medications that can be eliminated, discuss a plan for getting off them and follow the plan.
- You should always get all your medications filled by the same pharmacy. Talk to your pharmacist about your regime to make sure there are no known interactions.
- Read Are Your Prescriptions Killing You? Reviewers on Amazon call it “a life saver”.
Not sure if your medications are causing cognitive problems? Here’s a list of the top 20 medications that can cause memory loss.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deane Alban is the co-founder of BeBrainFit.com, along with her husband Dr. Patrick Alban. Together they’ll show how to keep your brain young, healthy, and fully-functioning for life.
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