What Over-the-Counter Drugs Could Be Doing to Your Brain

What Over-the-Counter Drugs Could Be Doing to Your BrainSleeping patterns can change as you get older, whether it’s as a result of lifestyle changes, medications, or the side effect of other age-related conditions. That’s why it isn’t uncommon to see a higher rate of insomnia among older and middle-aged adults. That’s also why sleep is a hot topic when talking about anti-aging and the brain.

If you’re one of the many who have had trouble sleeping and thought about taking an over-the-counter sleeping pill, you may want to think twice, because a new study has discovered that some of these pills may impact anti-aging and the brain by increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The sleeping aid Nytol, along with the over-the-counter allergy medicines Piriton and Benadryl, have been included on a warning list of medications from the researchers, because they’re “anticholinergic,” meaning that they block a key chemical messenger called acetylcholine from the central nervous system. This relates back to anti-aging and the brain because research has shown that Alzheimer’s patients lack acetylcholine. Therefore, regularly taking these anticholinergic medications can lead to a significantly greater likelihood of developing some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, among older adults.

The findings from this new study, which were recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that taking the highest dose of these anticholinergic drugs increased the dementia risk by 54%. For Alzheimer’s specifically, the risk was 63% higher. In addition to the sleeping aid and the anti-allergy medications, other drugs on the warning list included the antidepressant doxepin and the overactive bladder treatment Ditropan. These are all medications that are commonly used among older adults, which is why these findings provide valuable insight for the study of anti-aging and the brain.

What Over-the-Counter Drugs Could Be Doing to Your BrainThe truth about age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s is that it can be influenced by a lot of different factors. That’s why it’s so important that you consult with your doctor or a health professional before taking any new medications, even if it’s an over-the-counter product and especially if you’re also taking prescription drugs. For the purpose of anti-aging and the brain, it might also be useful to consider alternate, more natural options for dealing with conditions like insomnia, such as:

• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol at least a few hours before bed
• Being aware of any side effects for all prescriptions and medications
• Adopting a bedtime routine and sticking to it
• Keeping technological items, such as cell phones and laptops, far from the bed
• Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day
• Avoiding daytime naps
• Scheduling time to relax before bed (e.g. a warm bath, a cup of green tea, reading a book, etc.)


“Insomnia,” The American Academy of SleepMedicine web site; http://www.aasmnet.org/resources/factsheets/insomnia.pdf, last accessed January 30, 2015.

“Study suggests sleeping drugs can increase risk of Alzheimer’s,” The Guardian web site, January 27, 2015; http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/27/sleeping-drugs-increased-risk-alzheimers.