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OTC Meds May Be Bad For The Brain

Dorathy Gass

According to a recent study in JAMA Neurology, over-the-counter medicines may create cognitive impairment issues within 65+ adults who use them on a regular basis. While OTC meds can help with anything from a headache, to cold symptoms, the study, conducted by a research team from the Indiana University School of Medicine, to a deeper look into the link between these meds and older, ‘cognitively normal’ adults, who did not suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The team found that anticholinergic medications – which can help with cramps, insomnia, allergies, and asthma – might contribute to brain shrinking, and a low glucose metabolism; something that is important for the brain. Some examples of these medications include: Zantac, Benadryl, and Thorazine.

Dr. Shannon Risacher, author of the report, stated that she would not advise her grandparents, or even her parents to take these types of medications, unless absolutely needed. This study builds a further case for research conducted in the past in regards to cognitive issues, the increased risk of dementia, and the link between anticholinergic medications.

The study team reviewed Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative data, as well as data from Indiana Memory and Aging Study. Collectively they reviewed records from just over 450 participants; where 60 participants were taking a minimum of one medium-to-high anticholinergic activity medication on a regular basis. The cognitive and memory functions of participants, and brain structure, were measured with MRI and PET scans.

The study showed that those 65+ adults taking anticholinergic meds performed worse when it came to tests on short-term memory, and executive functioning. The testing went through a wide variety of activities, including: problem solving, planning, and verbal reasoning. Those who took anticholinergic drugs regularly also revealed lower rates of glucose metabolism in both the brain, as well as a region of the brain which may be the root of memory and emotion: the hippocampus. The MRI scans showed that those who took these meds also decreased in brain volume.

It’s important to note, MSN reported that one limitation within the study included a small group study Another could be that the brain shrinkage and low glucose metabolism was because of poor health, and not the OTC meds. The team notes that larger studies, with more health history assessment could be needed in the future.

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