A new study from the Indiana University School of Medicine, published in the journal JAMA Neurology has revealed some disturbing truths about drug side effects.
Certain types of drugs destroy brain tissue and negatively impact various cognitive functions. Worse still, 60-year-olds are being given these drugs routinely, both for mild as well as severe health issues.
So, one way or another, at some point there’s a very good chance that you’ll be offered some of these potentially damaging medicines too.
The study looked at 451 people in their 70s. 60 of them were also on anticholinergic drugs. The other 391 took no pharmaceuticals.
The scientists ran various tests, including structural magnetic resonance imaging (SMRI) scans. Over the course of two years they also performed various tests around cognition, not just once, but lots of times. The scans revealed that the anticholinergic meds were causing brain shrinkage.
The effects were widespread. Medicated patients showed atrophy in both hemispheres. The whole of the external layer of neural tissue covering their brains was affected!
Their temporal lobes were thinner too. These are the areas used for language, turning sensory input into meaningful memories, and connecting responses with events and emotions (like run away from that giant spider, for instance).
They also had lateral ventricles larger than the ones found in those not taking medications and this is quite a telltale sign. Studies like the one in a 2012 edition of the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders, show that lateral ventricles grow larger as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease progress.
The cognitive functioning tests showed equally gloomy results.
Drug-takers performed worse on memory and recall, on executive decision-making and control, and on logical associations too.
These are all debilitating deficits that would cause anyone to question the sense in taking these drugs.
So, what are anticholinergics?
Their job is to block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the nervous system. The trouble with this though, is that acetylcholine is involved in lots of processes in the body.
Anticholinergics are used to treat:
• asthma and other respiratory problems
• allergies (Antihistamines)
• dizziness and motion sickness (antiemetics)
• muscle pain or spasms (muscle relaxants and antispasmodics)
• high blood pressure,
• abnormal heart rhythm (antiarrhythmics)
• Parkinson’s disease, anxiety and depression (antipsychotics and tricyclic antidepressants).
That’s quite a broad range of ailments that seniors are more likely to find themselves needing treatment for, but which they should avoid due to the risk of brain atrophy from the meds.
Scientists have expressed their concerns on this issue before: an article published in 2009 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine refers to a study on 4,128 women and 2,784 men aged 65 and older.
It drew the same unpleasant conclusions about the debilitating effects of anticholinergics.