A new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that certain allergy medications including diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be related to changes in cognitive ability, brain deterioration and an increased risk of developing dementia. The reason that I wrote “may be related to” instead of “cause” is that the study shows that there is a strong correlation between people taking these medications and these outcomes. This does not mean that there is a definite causal relationship (in other words, we do not know if these medications cause dementia). News shows will often overstate the findings of a study to make sensational headlines so it is important to look deeper into studies to understand the true conclusion.

Here are links to the two studies that establish this link if you would like to read them directly:

Allergy medicationsThe allergy medications that were correlated with increased risk of dementia were all anti-cholinergic. Many different medications including some anti-depressants, sleep medications and medications for overactive bladder have anti-cholinergic activity. This means they block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine has many different actions in the body, particularly related to the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. It is possible that this relationship between anticholinergics and the development of dementia is due to the fact that the breakdown of the cholinergic system is part of the pathophysiology (the process by which disease develops) of dementia.

In light of this new finding, the recommendation is that we only use these allergy medications in the lowest possible doses if they are the only viable option and that we limit the use of these medications in older adults.

There are many integrative treatment options for treating allergies (as well as depression, overactive bladder, and insomnia). Some treatments for allergies may not include any pills at all while others may include herbs or nutrients. As with all conditions, treatment of allergies requires treatment of the root cause of the allergic reaction. Here are some examples of natural treatments for allergies:

  • HEPA filter next to bed or desk to reduce exposure to airborne allergens
  • Neti pot or sinus rinse to clear mucus from sinuses
  • Nettle tea to reduce allergic rhinitis
  • Quercitin to reduce mast-cell reactivity (also supportive to heart health http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/quercetin)
  • Changes in diet or environment to decrease exposure to allergens.
  • Immune support for reducing allergic response.

We treat allergies with natural medicine every day. I recommend using these treatments because they are effective and have beneficial “side effects” like prevention of atherosclerosis (plaque development in arteries). I make an individualized treatment plan for each person that I treat for allergies based on their symptom picture as well as the bigger picture of their health.

Contact us and make an appointment to discuss a plan to treat your allergies safely.