The latest research pointing to a potential link between hay fever medicines and the development of Alzheimer’s or dementia is being turned into a ‘health warning’ issued by the mainstream media instead of doctors, reports suggest.
The study was undertaken back in November 2015 by the Indiana University School of Medicine and used a range of regular cognitive tests to assess the performance of 451 elderly participants over time. The findings showed that anticholinergic agents, commonly found in hayfever pills but also in other over the counter medicines, were associated with a reduction in brain size and mental decline.
Author of the paper, Dr. Shannon Risacher (Ph.D) was clear in stating that the results were not yet conclusive:
These findings might give us clues to the biological basis for the cognitive problems associated with anticholinergic drugs, but additional studies are needed if we are to truly understand the mechanisms involved.
Concerns over the use of this common class of medicines have been raised before, with some research suggesting a possible link between anticholinergic drugs and an increased risk of dementia.
This small study takes a closer look at changes in the structure and activity of the brain. However, the full impact of these drugs remains unclear as the people taking them in this study were more likely to have insomnia, anxiety, or depression, all of which are risk factors for dementia.
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
However, other headlines tell a different story. For instance, The Express steamed ahead by explicitly stating that “Over the counter hayfever tablets found to cause MEMORY LOSS” – while in fact a ‘link’ has been found between anticholinergic agents and mental decline, which is very different to a conclusive finding of causation.
This is not the first time that this alarm has been sounded: back in January 2015 a much larger study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that if people over 65 took a high dose (a pill per day, every day) for at least three years they would have a 54 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
In response to the 2015 study The Sun published an article linking hayfever tablets to ‘brain disease’. The BBC wrote a similar article during that same period. Thankfully in this 2015 case NHS choices cleared up the confusion about the research by stating that:
This large, well-designed US study suggested those taking the highest levels of anticholinergic prescribed medicines were at a higher risk of developing dementia compared with those not taking any. Importantly, the increased risk was only found in people who took these medicines at the equivalent of once every day for more than three years. No link was found at lower levels.
However, this shouldn’t make us complacent. These are not unrealistic doses of medicines, so the results may be applicable to a significant proportion of older adults.
The 2016 study was designed as a follow-up to the 2015 findings to find out why this link was present. The 451 older (60+) participants were taking medicines that have medium to high levels of anticholinergic agents over a decade. The sample size was arguably too small to prove a conclusive link. But the length of time over which it took place does suggest that over 60’s would still need to be taking these medicines at high doses for a long time for such mental effects to occur.
It’s essential to understand how figures can sometimes be inflated by the mainstream media to frighten the public, leaving them confused as to which health information is right – it also impacts a person’s sense of agency when making health choices independently. As IFLScience clearly points out:
It’s also worth stressing that an increased risk of getting dementia by 54 percent is not the same as having a 54 percent chance of developing dementia. If you are in the U.K., for example, you have about a 7 percent chance of developing dementia if you are 65, which is quite low. This percentage barely changes when the increased risk gained by taking these drugs into account.
No studies as yet have been performed on the impact of this class of medicines on younger people.
Featured image via Pixabay
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?