I’ve been relying on Tylenol PM to get me to sleep at night. Just one. But it turns out that a lot of people are leaning on this OTC “solution” – in some cases taking as many as 5 pills at a time – and, collectively, we’re not happy about it.
I thought I’d try and scale the relationship down a bit. “what if I don’t need the Acetaminophen?” I wondered, “What if I just need the Diphenhydramine?”
AKA Benadryl or “common anticholinergic drug”.
From Harvard’s Health Blog: Posted January 28, 2015, 8:55 pm , Updated May 23, 2017 : Common anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl (aka Diphenhydramine) linked to increased dementia risk . Anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine. This substance transmits messages in the nervous system. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory. In the rest of the body, it stimulates muscle contractions. Anticholinergic drugs include some antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, medications to control overactive bladder, and drugs to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
What the study found:
A team led by Shelley Gray, a pharmacist at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, tracked nearly 3,500 men and women ages 65 and older who took part in Adult Changes in Thought (ACT), a long-term study conducted by the University of Washington and Group Health, a Seattle healthcare system. They used Group Health’s pharmacy records to determine all the drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, that each participant took the 10 years before starting the study. Participants’ health was tracked for an average of seven years. During that time, 800 of the volunteers developed dementia. When the researchers examined the use of anticholinergic drugs, they found that people who used these drugs were more likely to have developed dementia as those who didn’t use them. Moreover, dementia risk increased along with the cumulative dose. Taking an anticholinergic (e.g., Benadryl or Tylenol PM) for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.
The ACT results add to mounting evidence that anticholinergics aren’t drugs to take long-term if you want to keep a clear head, and keep your head clear into old age. The body’s production of acetylcholine diminishes with age, so blocking its effects can deliver a double whammy to older people. It’s not surprising that problems with short-term memory, reasoning, and confusion lead the list of side effects of anticholinergic drugs, which also include drowsiness, dry mouth, urine retention, and constipation.
There’s got to be a better way, don’t you think?
Like Tart Cherry Juice, for instance. Or audiobooks (works for me).