I occasionally write about medical issues. Now in the midst of recovery from a recent Hip Replacement operation, I came upon an article from the Good Times magazine, about Acetylcholine. This chemical is in our bodies naturally, and acts as a neurotransmitter. It plays a wide range of roles in our brains and bodies. In our nervous systems, the release of Acetylcholine (by motor neurons) activates our muscles. In our brains, Acetylcholine functions also as a neuromodulator. That is, Acetylcholine affects our arousal, attention, memory and motivation.
It is generally abundant in our bodies and brains. It helps us focus, learn and memorize. It helps support muscle contractions, it helps us sleep and arouse ourselves. It facilitates the release of dopamine and serotonin.
It is possible to have an imbalance of Acetylcholine. Supplements are not available, however, you can take nutrients (including consumption of certain foods) to boost the production of Acetylcholine.
However, there is more that is, in my view, worth knowing about this important chemical.
There are certain medications many of us take, that affect the ability of Acetylcholine to perform its functions within us. Studies appear to show that some of these medications (both prescribed and over the counter) that affect Acetylcholine performance can ultimately increase our risk of contracting Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Medications such as Benadryl (antihistamine), Trazodone (sleeping), Tramadol (Pain relief), Paroxetine (depression) and Oxybutynin (incontinence) all can affect our Acetylcholine performance. These medications, among others, are sometimes referred to as anticholinergic drugs.
To this list, you can add Hypertension Drugs. If you are taking a medication to control blood pressure (the latest statistics show that 25% of adult Canadians are affected in some way by high blood pressure), chances are that it will have some effect on the Acetylcholine in your body and brain.
As we age, our kidneys and liver fade in their abilities to process the medications we take, so we may feel new side effects from the medications, even if we have been taking them for some years.
The magazine article describes the “growing body of research” that suggests that these medications may increase dementia risk.
One of the studies involved 284,000 British adults, all over 55 years of age. Of those who had been taking a strong anticholinergic daily for three years, the incidence of Dementia was 49% higher. Of course, the issue then becomes whether it is possible to reduce the medication the adult is now taking that creates the Dementia risk.
Depending what medication any particular individual may be taking, an appointment with either their Doctor or Pharmacist may be helpful. With the objective being a reduction in the risky medication they are taking now, a review of all the medications, consideration of alternatives or substitutes will be important. If Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease is genetic in your family, a medication review would probably be useful.
More research is needed in this area of medications we take that may affect our risk of Dementia. Between Hypertension medication, Antidepressant medication, Antihistamine and Sleeping medication, I expect we cover most of our population. Those medications tend to block the performance of Acetylcholine. It may not be so noticeable in younger people but with age, seemingly it becomes more pronounced. I wonder whether a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia is always “permanent” or whether a change of the patient’s medication might, at least in some cases, change the diagnosis.
Middle age and older adults should, when they can, consult with their medical advisors and determine whether an adjustment to their medication group can be made, in order to reduce their risk of contracting these formidable, life changing diseases.