This popular substance is causing dementia in men

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Check the ingredients of what you are taking, especially at night…

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Story-At-a-Glance

The active sleepy ingredient in treatments like Tylenol PM is diphenhydramine.

It’s the same ingredient as benadryl.

And it can have terrible consequences for your mind and memory.

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This popular substance is causing dementia in men

I woke up bleary eyed and unrested after a particularly rough family event.

I was in a strange bed in a strange city, dealing with a stressful situation and I was exhausted. 

It was terrible because I had a difficult time thinking all day long.

Usually I sleep really well because I have a couple of unique tricks I’ve learned over the years.

But on the occasions I don’t, it can be really rough.

Not getting enough sleep can have all kinds of terrible health consequences. 

Lack of sleep can cause your brain to not clean out the proteins that cause Alzehiemer’s.

It’s been directly linked to weight gain.

And it can impair cognitive function. 

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But can the stuff that many people use to fall asleep actually make cognitive function worse?

What is the “PM” in “PM” treatments?

Many people use treatments labeled “PM” to fall asleep.

The active sleepy ingredient in PM treatments is the same thing as benadryl — diphenhydramine.  

These can be treatments like Tylenol PM, Advil PM, and others. 

You can buy them in any grocery or pharmacy in America and they are available widely through the rest of the world as well.

The reason this is important is because the ingredient diphenhydramine is a chemical with what is called anticholinergic activity

That means it alters the action of a brain chemical called acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is important for brain function as well as memory and when you disrupt it there can be negative effects.

Can anticholinergic treatments cause memory problems?

Unfortunately, even though these treatments help many people go to sleep, there is a strong association of regular use of treatments with anticholinergic activity and dementia.

A robust association between some classes of anticholinergic ‘treatments’ and future dementia incidence was observed. This could be caused by a class specific effect, or by ‘treatments’ being used for very early symptoms of dementia. Future research should examine anticholinergic ‘treatment’ classes as opposed to anticholinergic effects intrinsically or summing scales for anticholinergic exposure.

Now, there are several treatments in this category, and diphenhydramine is just one of them. 

But it’s important to know this association since this treatment is sold over the counter and most people consider it safe.

Frequent Exposure Equals a Higher Risk.

I think these compounds are safe and useful — if taken for a brief period of time.

Or taken occasionally.

Long term cumulative exposure over time is what increases risk of getting dementia.

Higher cumulative anticholinergic ‘treatment’ use is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Efforts to increase awareness among health professionals and older adults about this potential ‘treatment’-related risk are important to minimize anticholinergic use over time.

Dementia links specifically to diphenhydramine.

These studies have been on anticholinergic treatments in general. Like I said, they have huge benefits if taken for a brief period of time, or only occasionally. 

But it’s also important to know that the diphenhydramine that is found in the PM treatments is directly implicated in memory problems.

As the cohort aged, ‘Rx’ sedative-hypnotic use remained relatively stable, whereas over-the-counter sedative use, principally diphenhydramine, increased substantially. The association of this ‘treatment’ with cognitive impairment in persons without dementia highlights its potential for causing adverse reactions in older adults.

In my opinion, these PM types of treatments aren’t particularly safe for long term use. 

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The bottom line is that just because a treatment is OTC doesn’t mean it’s safe — especially in the long-term. 

You need to be careful about what you put in your body. Especially if you use it for months and months at a time.

Read the labels and know the risks and understand that not every risk is written on a label. 

A lot of them, like this one, can take many years to show up.

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Matt Cook is editor-in-chief of Daily Medical Discoveries. Matt has been a full time health researcher for 26 years. ABC News interviewed Matt on sexual health issues not long ago. Matt is widely quoted on over 1,000,000 websites. He has over 300,000 daily newsletter readers. Daily Medical Discoveries finds hidden, buried or ignored medical studies through the lens of 100 years of proven science. Matt heads up the editorial team of scientists and health researchers. Each discovery is based upon primary studies from peer reviewed science sources following the what are the side effects of seroquel to ensure accuracy.