These common over-the-counter drugs can damage your brain

Across America, there’s a pill for just about every health issue you can think of. Americans don’t think twice about using them, either. If it’s available in a drug store, then it must be safe, right?

The problem is those pills almost always come with a lengthy list of potential side effects. And that is something you should pay close attention to, cautions Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, because quite a few of these side effects can adversely affect your brain.

In a new scientific study, scientists found that a class of medications called anticholinergic drugs have been definitively linked with cognitive impairment and increased risk of dementia.

What are anticholinergic drugs? They include a broad class of medications that are used to treat various medical conditions involving contraction and relaxation of muscles, such as overactive bladder, muscle spasms, breathing problems, diarrhea, gastrointestinal cramps, movement disorders, and the like. They work by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain, nerves, and nearby muscles and glands.

Though you have probably never heard of this scientific classification of drugs, you have most definitely heard of the medications themselves. They include:

  • Benadryl
  • Demerol
  • Dimetapp
  • Dramamine
  • Paxil
  • Unisom
  • VESIcare

Some are also prescribed for chronic diseases including hypertension, difficulty sleeping, cardiovascular disease, bladder control, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What the studies found:  Using brain imaging techniques, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found “lower metabolism and reduced brain sizes among study participants taking anticholinergic drugs.”

The IU School of Medicine study looked at 451 people with an average age of 73, sixty of whom were taking at least one anticholinergic medication. Researchers assessed the results of memory and cognitive tests, including PET scans and MRIs to determine brain structure.

The tests concluded that those taking anticholinergic drugs performed worse on short-term memory tests, executive function, verbal reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. The participants using anticholinergic drugs were also found to have reduced brain volume.

A related Indiana University study at the Center for Aging Research found that drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect could cause cognitive or brain impairment problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days.

“Given all the research evidence, you may wish to reconsider taking any of these anticholinergic medications,” suggests Leanne O’Neil. “Ask your doctor to consider another medication whenever possible. The health of your brain needs to be factored into your medical treatment.”

Here are some helpful links to more information about anticholinergic medications including common brand names. At INDY Neurofeedback, we want to help you keep your brain as healthy as possible.

Eating for better brain health

It is true that ‘you are what you eat,’ especially when it comes to brain health and wellbeing. Surprised?

“Fine-tuning your brain to keep it alert and fog-free, disease-free, and operating as efficiently as possible, says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, “starts with understanding what nutriments the brain needs to work most effectively. The number one thing you should be feeding your brain for mental clarity and optimum efficiency? Healthy fats,” O’Neil advises.

That’s because a robust 60% of your brain is composed of DHA and EPA. Both of these fatty acids are critical for supporting brain function, mood, regulating your body’s metabolism, and preventing inflammation. So providing your brain with omega-3 fatty acids found in things like fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and even algae, makes good sense.

Why is inflammation so important to avoid when it comes to brain health? Inflammation is linked to the progression of diseases which can prematurely age the brain such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Eating more healthy fats doesn’t mean to go on a super high-fat diet. Instead, pair healthy fats with low-glycemic plant foods that are rich in nutrients and fiber and do not interfere with blood sugar.

Healthy plant foods:

  • asparagus
  • avocados
  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • dark leafy greens
  • mushrooms
  • nuts
  • olive oil
  • onions
  • peppers
  • radishes
  • seeds

Eating healthy fats along with these foods also helps you absorb more of the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. There lots of delicious ways to do this, including adding more whole, real foods from high-quality sources, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Additionally, you can add some healthy saturated fats, like coconut oil and grass-fed meat. Your brain will absolutely benefit. Oh yes, and drink lots of pure, clean water!

What should you avoid? Highly processed and hydrogenated oils, which contribute to brain inflammation, including:

  • canola
  • corn
  • grapeseed
  • soybean
  • sunflower

At INDY Neurofeedback, we work with our clients so they understand how to achieve better brain health and overall wellbeing.