Risky Business: Dangerous Drugs Treat 5 Common Conditions

Posted by Jennie Ann Freiman MD on

Popular over-the-counter and prescription drugs commonly cause more harm than good, which flies in the face of FDA-approval confirming they are safe and effective when used as directed. Ongoing research and experience continue to uncover alarming links to dementia, heart disease and death in short and long-term users of bestselling and blockbuster pharmaceuticals that treat everyday complaints. Prescribers are slowly becoming aware that widely accepted drugs can damage healthspan and lifespan. Drugs that undermine brain function and overall longevity are worth avoiding completely, using only when essential, and/or substituting with less noxious alternatives.

Beware the drugs that treat these 5 common disorders:

Depression: Anti-depressants are the most consumed drug category in America. Multi-millions take them, including 10% of the population at or over age 12. Some anti-depressants are classified as “anti-cholinergics” because they work by blocking acetylcholine, a brain chemical critical for learning and memory. Anti-cholinergic drugs impair higher thinking, shrink the brain and make the chance of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment (considered to be an Alzheimer’s precursor), four times more likely with as little as 6 months of use. The stronger the anti-cholinergic effect, the more likely the drug is to mess with your brain.

The anti-depressants with the strongest acetylcholine suppression are:

  • paroxetine / Paxil™
    amitriptyline / Elavil™
    desipramine / Norpramin™
    doxepin / Sinequan™

A lesser (but real) effect is seen with:

  • venlafaxine / Effexor™

Each of these five drugs, available by prescription only, carries a black-box warning for increasing suicide risk in children, adolescents and adults under the age of 25.

Heartburn/ Acid Reflux: Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), available both by prescription and over-the-counter, reduce stomach acid, and prevent and treat gastrointestinal ulcers. The news goes downhill from there. PPIs are linked to increased hip, wrist and forearm fractures, and an increase risk of serious infection and all-cause death. It is suggested that PPIs promote dementia by lowering B12 and magnesium and enhancing levels of beta-amyloid (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease). Overall, significant adverse effects are more likely the longer the drug is used.

These PPIs are available both over-the-counter and by prescription:

  • omeprazole / Prilosec™/ Prilosec™ OTC,
  • ansoprazole / Prevacid™/ Prevacid™ 24HR

These PPIs are by prescription only:

  • esomeprazole / Nexium™
  • dexlansoprazole / Dexilan™
  • pantoprazole / Protonix™
  • rabeprazole / AcipHex™

Concerned researchers advise avoidance of PPIs, but take note that some of their alternatives have issues as well. The H-2 blocker class of heartburn drugs are anti-cholinergic, linking them to the same problems as noted above for anti-depressants.

Common H-2 blockers are:

  • cimetidine / Tagamet™
    ranitidine / Zantac™

High Cholesterol/Risk of Heart Disease:  At least one in four middle aged adults takes a statin drug to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks. Recently updated guidelines on dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk may result in more users, especially among younger people. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended screening adults between ages 40 - 75 for cardiovascular disease and considering statin treatment for those with a 10-year risk above 7.5%…by their criteria, that’s a lot of people. To find out if you're a statin candidate based on USPSTF guidelines, use this heart risk calculator. A more thorough, comprehensive evaluation of cardiovascular risk can (and should) be established through medical testing.

The downside of statin use is formidable and very sobering, particularly because these drugs are intended for lifelong use. Strong evidence links statins to an increased risk of diabetes, breast, prostate and other cancers, severe muscle damage, and memory impairment. Some of these effects occur because statins deplete the body of CoQ10, a coenzyme required for normal function of every cell in the body. Aside from direct effects that raise the risk of dementia, statins cause sleep disturbance and elevate blood sugar, each of which is, in turn, a risk for Alzheimer’s disease and reduced cognitive function. A number of studies have demonstrated no benefit to overall mortality rates with statin use.

Statins available by prescription include:

    •    atorvastatin / Lipitor™
    •    fluvastatin / Lescol™ / Lescol XL™
    •    lovastatin / Mevacor™ / Altoprev™
    •    pravastatin / Pravachol™
    •    rosuvastatin / Crestor™
    •    simvastatin / Zocor™
    •    pitavastatin / Livalo™

Insomnia: Convenience is one reason over-the-counter sleep aids are top sellers, generating in excess of $400 million in annual profits. Anti-histamines are one class of sleeping pills that raise red flags with both short and long term use. Yet again, these drugs are anti-cholinergics, making them especially harmful to seniors, whose production of acetylcholine naturally decreases with age, a case of adding insult to injury. The risk for dementia with these sleep aids is related to the cumulative lifetime amount taken rather than current use of the medication. Since insomnia itself is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, using anti-histamines to treat it creates a double whammy.

Common over-the-counter anti-histamine sleep aids:

  • diphenhydramine / Benadryl™
    doxylamine / Unisom™

Other anti-histamines (for cold, allergy, etc) have significant anti-cholinergic effects:

  • brompheniramine + phenylephrine / Dimetapp™
  • chlorpheniramine / Chlor-Trimeton™
  • carbinoxamine /Arbinoxa™ / Palgic™ / by prescription

Pain: One third of Americans, about 100 million, report living with chronic pain, which in turn drives drug use. As narcotics prescriptions skyrocketed, so did opioid-related overdose deaths. Over-the-counter painkillers, generally seen as safer, also come with serious health risks that went unrecognized for many, many years, creating a false sense of security about their safety.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used for both acute and chronic pain relief. Except for aspirin, all NSAIDs raise the risk of heart attack and stroke,  and in turn death, a risk which can occur after as little as one day of use.

Over-the counter NSAID painkillers include:

  • ibuprofen / Advil™ / Motrin™
    naproxen / Aleve™
Prescription NSAID painkillers include:
  • celecoxib / Celebrex™
    ibuprofen / Motrin™
    indomethacin / Indocin™
    mefenamic acid / Ponstel™
    meloxicam / Mobic™
    naproxen / Naprosyn™ / Anaprox™

A popular OTC pain alternative, acetaminophen / Tylenol™, widely perceived as harmless,  is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the US, and linked to an increase in cancer (lymphoma, leukemia) and death from overdose. In the case of drugs for pain relief, less is more.

Anti-cholinergic drugs in widespread use are injurious, especially to the brain, making them worthy of further consideration. A list of drugs with anti-cholinergic activity (aside from those already mentioned in this post) can be used as a guide for pharmaceuticals to avoid as much as possible. Consider this about anti-cholinergics:

  • Just one dose is related to reduced focus and attention, slower reaction time and cognitive impairment
  • Cognitive effects may not be fully reversible, even with short term use
  • Simultaneous use of these drugs (ie. heartburn + sleeping pills + anti-depressants) has not been studied, therefore it’s not known if the adverse effects on brain and overall health are additive or have a greater, multiplier effect.
  • First line pharma for Alzheimer’s disease is a class of drugs that prevent acetylcholine breakdown, which means they are ANTI-anti-cholinergics (or pro-cholinergics). It makes no sense that we try to preserve brain function with drugs that spare acetylcholine, but treat common conditions (depression, insomnia, heartburn, allergy, etc) with drugs that destroy it, in turn raising the risk of death, dementia, and other chronic ailments. (?)
  • As the use of these drugs in the general population has increased, so has the incidence of their associated chronic ailments (Alzheimer’s, diabetes, insomnia).
  • As a class, anti-cholinergics increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Periodic reassessment of health risks should drive every wellness plan and include measures to reduce dependency on acute and chronic drugs. To be safe, never make any drug-treatment changes without consulting a qualified healthcare provider.

Dietary and lifestyle measures can be very effective for prevention and treatment of each of the 5 health conditions mentioned here, without the serious side effects of drugs. Check out these sleep tips to help fight insomnia and the need for sleep aids. Consider daily use of  2000 mg of whole turmeric supplements for arthritic pain, shown to be equally effective as NSAID treatment, and well accepted with fewer side effects.

What natural approach(es) do you use for the above problems?

Disclaimer: This article was created for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Oobroo™ Inc or its staff.

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