By Mila McManus, MD
Without question, prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs are double-edged swords. While there are instances when pharmaceutical drugs are needed, in many cases there are safer ways to address symptoms and diseases without them. As a physician, I feel compelled to remind my patients to become well educated about what they are taking and why, as well as to understand the risks. In a world of risks, dying from a pharmaceutical drug reaction or side effect is among the highest risks from societal activities. Taking a food supplement or herbal remedy is among the lowest risks. Adverse drug reactions are now the fourth leading cause of death in the US. Getting struck by lightning is more likely to happen than to be killed by a supplement! [i]
One common side effect of many drugs is memory loss and cognitive impairment. If you or someone you love has experienced memory loss or cognitive issues, check to see if any of the prescriptions or over-the-counter (OTC) medications listed below are being taken. If so, consider other options.
Top 3 Types of Drugs That Cause Memory Loss or Cognitive Impairment[ii]
1. Anticholinergics – Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning. Low levels of acetylcholine cause forgetfulness, poor concentration and difficulty finding words. These drugs block acetylcholine. Many of these drugs start with the prefix “anti”. These include antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics and antihypertensives.</p
2. Sleeping Pills – Prescriptions such as Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta and OTC drugs such as Advil PM, Tylenol PM and Excedrin PM are used for pain and insomnia relief.
3. Cholesterol Lowering Drugs– Also called statin drugs, these are among the most profitable prescription drugs in the world. Memory issues have been so prevalent with this class of drug that it is now a requirement that memory loss be clearly listed as a side effect on the label. Included are Lipitor, Lescol, Crestor and Zocor. Generic brands all end in “-statin”. (don’t confuse with nystatin which is an anti-fungal medication and has nothing to do with statin drugs) Click here for more information about Cholesterol & Statin Drugs.
And these cause memory loss too….
4. Painkillers including morphine and codeine as well as naproxen found in brands such as Aleve and Midol Extended Relief.
5. OTC drugs for insomnia, such as Sominex and Unisom.
6. OTC drugs for allergies, such as Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec.
7. OTC drugs for motion sickness, such as Dramamine.
8. OTC drugs for acid reflux, for example, Pepcid AC, Tagamet, and Zantac.
9. Benzodiazepines are a class of drug most commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia and include Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.
10. Lithium, commonly used for bi-polar disorder, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses, clearly lists impaired memory and poor concentration as very common side effects.
11. Chemotherapy drugs
12. Barbiturates such as Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal and phenobarbital
13. Common treatments for Parkinson’s including amantadine, levodopa, pramipexole, rotigotine, ipinirole, scopolamine, atropine and glycopyrrolate.
14. Anti-epileptic drug, phenytoin
Every drug listed above has a host of other potential side effects in addition to memory loss or cognitive decline, so it is easy to see why drugs should be understood, and avoided whenever possible. As with any prescription drug, it is best to consult with your physician before changing or stopping any medication. Be aware and be well.