Alarming new research shows that many commonly used OTC drugs can shrink your brain and raise your risk of dementia.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology. It was conducted at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Scientists wanted to examine the association between anti-cholinergic medication and cognitive function in normal, healthy, older adults. Specifically these were people aged 65 years and older who did not have any signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Anti-cholinergic drugs are a class of medications that block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. They are used for a variety of different diseases such as asthma, allergies, incontinence, muscle spasms, gastrointestinal cramps, motion sickness, depression, and sleep disorders. They are a typical component of commonly used allergy or cold and flu drugs. Benadryl, Thorazine and Zantac are some common brand names.

Researchers discovered that this class of drug can contribute to brain shrinkage and to lowered glucose metabolism inside the brain. “I certainly wouldn’t advise my grandparents or even my parents to take these medications unless they have to,” said Dr.  Shannon Risacher, lead author of the study.

This is quite a concerning finding. Rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are reaching epidemic proportions and affecting adults at increasingly younger ages. Anything you can do to protect your brain health is highly worthwhile.

If you want to learn more about protecting your brain, see my book "Alzheimer’s: What you must know to protect your brain", as well as the free information here.

Risacher S, McDonald B, Tallman, et al. Association Between Anticholinergic Medication Use and Cognition, Brain Metabolism, and Brain Atrophy in Cognitively Normal Older Adults. JAMA Neurology. 2016.