Keeping your brain shape healthy is now a major goal of anti-aging and total wellness in general. Yet many drugs that we consider common, safe, and are widely prescribed, are being shown, by irrefutable brain imaging studies, to decrease brain volume and hamper normal brain metabolism in shockingly short periods of time of regularly taking these medications.

The drugs that have this shadow side include many over-the-counter allergy, sleep, incontinence and anxiety medications. You need to know the risk versus benefits of any drugs you are taking. If you must take them, work with a medical nutritionist or functional practitioner who hopefully has some tools to offset the collateral damage.

But often there are natural answers for your issues.

This information is especially critical in children (infants to teens) and seniors, both populations who have brains that are especially vulnerable to these side effects of meds.

A study from the Indiana School of Medicine published in Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology demonstrates how many over-the-counter and prescription drugs can lead to an increased risk, in the older patient, of dementia. Within months.

The study involves 100 anticholinergic drugs, many meds used daily by millions, to treat a wide range of health issues. Anticholinergics decrease acetylcholine activity to balance out the production of dopamine and acetylcholine. They are used to treat incontinence, depression, and allergy and sleep disorders. Examples are Benadryl, Demerol, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, and Unisom.

This research found at least 100 medications that increased the risk of dementia and diseases like Parkinson’s, by shrinking brain volume, hampering metabolism and blood flow, and creating unhealthy debris that blocked normal functioning.

The Indiana researchers studied 451 people in their early 70s. They used MRIs, PET scans, as well as memory and cognitive tests to measure participants’ changes in brain shape and function as they took these meds. These tests tracked, in real time, how these medications, used by millions, altered the human brain.

The other drugs that “shrunk” the brain were antihistamines. Antihistamines are used to treat allergies and some times other conditions. They are well known for causing acute cognitive impairment and decreased brain volume and metabolism in the elderly. But these adverse effects are now being seen in younger brains.

Furthermore, antihistamines can potentiate brain-damaging effects of other medications with similar actions, such as anticholinergic drugs.

Most of the people on anticholinergic and antihistamine drugs had distinct volume shrinkage, meaning these drugs promoted smaller brain size, as well as reduced brain function!

Function follows form.

Every drug has a shadow side. I worked side-by-side with one of the physicians who had made kidney medicine what it is today, Jack Moncrief MD. We worked on a drug for patients with diabetes or who were on dialysis and had wounds that had difficulty healing. Dr. Moncrief always warned, “Every drug does something nasty to the body.”

In medicine, it’s always risk versus benefit. If you must take a drug, you have to know what BAD it may do so you can do GOOD to offset it.  Or use natural answers instead.

But, you need to know which drugs shrink brain size to protect yourself and your children!

The participants in the Indiana study were also shown to have larger cavities in their brains and performed poorly on short-term memory tests and problem-solving! Use of these meds for several months were able to make people dumber.

Two years earlier, in 2013, another study had come out showing similar results. It was out of the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. It was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia in 2013 entitled Long-term anticholinergic use and the aging brain. They studied anticholinergic medications and how they effected brain health.

The Iowa researchers looked at 3,700 older adults and found that taking certain these drugs for as few as 60 days in a row could alter brain function, by shrinking the brain and reducing normal metabolism of the brain.

Brain-drugs stats.

  • More than 7 million Americans are suffering from dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
  • 50% of them are coping with at least two additional chronic diseases that require treatment with more than five medications.
  • Many of these meds are anticholinergic, making their dementia worse.
  • More than 9 million older Americans, including those with cognitive impairment, are prescribed at least 1 anticholinergic.

* You can click on the link below to see the drug list and which meds are mild or severe anticholinergics.

The negative cognitive effects of anticholinergics has been known for a while. They were first recognized with Parkinson disease. Continuous use of anticholinergics for at least 2 years was found to double the prevalence of both nasty debris (amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles) in the brain of persons with Parkinson’s and worsen the disease.

These Iowa researchers found that the more anticholinergic meds a person was taking, the greater their risk of  brain malfunctions.

  • Their real life research showed that 2 to 3 months of continuous use of anticholinergic meds dinged brain health.
  • Cognitive impairment among older adults was worsened by 50% after receiving at least three mild anticholinergics for 90 days and
  • Risk went to 100% after receiving 1 or more severe anticholinergics for only 60 days!
  • This means that the drugs in the severe category cause some adverse brain changes in everyone taking them, within 2 months!

Parents often bring their children into my practice and while recording their present medications, it is common to see kids on one or two allergy meds. And they often have been on them for one to two years. Remember, these adverse brain effects happened within months. These drugs are prescribed freely to children. Or parent buy them at the pharmacy. Today’s medicine is all about meds. This is a great point to make. Yet herbs, diet and sensible life style changes often fix allergies, rather than continually medicating for them.

Children’s brains are supposed to be a hot house of healthy expansion and metabolism. But these meds can hamper these actions.

Be brain smart.

Here’s a guide to the common drugs, both over-the-counter and by script, that are linked, in human studies, to brain damage after taking them for short stints of time.

They are categorized as mild, moderate or severe.

The researchers say that damage starts to happen within months and ups the risk of Alzheimer’s, in the older patient, within about 6 years depending on the dose and the individual’s unique case.

List here:

This list came from: [email protected].

  • JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(6):721-732. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.0580
  • Alzheimer’s & Dementia 2013;9:377–385