University of California San Diego: Anticholinergics Can Cause Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. It is a neurodegenerative disease that is commonly associated with memory loss and decreased cognitive abilities. Having Alzheimer’s can seriously affect the quality of life of a person.

A Woman With Alzheimer

A Woman With Alzheimer

New Research claims anticholinergics can cause Alzheimer’s

In a recent study conducted by a group of scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, they found that a certain class of drugs very commonly used, called anticholinergics, can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s development in the elderly.

Read Also: Alzheimer’s Risk Factors Can Already Be Measured During Adolescence

What are anticholinergic drugs?

Anticholinergic drugs are a class of drugs used for the treatment of conditions like urinary incontinence, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diarrhea, asthma, and interestingly the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

These drugs work by inhibiting the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, at the neuromuscular junctions. This block results in decreased activity of involuntary muscles in the pulmonary and gastrointestinal systems.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter crucial for memory function in the brain, hence explaining the role of anticholinergics in Alzheimer’s development.

Results of the study from the San Diego School of Medicine

In this study, the researchers followed up with 688 individuals, averaging at the age of 74 years, who were taking anticholinergics. The study was conducted by Alexandra Weigand and her team for over a decade to derive the conclusion they reached.

Each subject was at least on one anticholinergic per day, with one-third of the sample population taking 4.7 anticholinergic drugs on average. All subjects of the study were given an annual cognitive test for the entire duration of the study and this test was evaluated strictly.

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Researchers found that subjects taking a minimum of one anticholinergic drug per day were forty-seven percent more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which can further lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Furthermore, researchers also tested the cerebrospinal fluid of the subjects for the presence of biological markers or mutations that may cause Alzheimer’s independent of the anticholinergic use. According to the researchers, subjects who tested positive for Alzheimer’s biological markers were found to be four times more likely to have MCI.

Double hit mechanism of Alzheimer’s

The researchers found that the subjects who tested positive for biological markers of AD and were taking at least one anticholinergic drug experienced something called a double-hit mechanism that resulted in the development of Alzheimer’s.

The biomarkers caused the first hit which increased the susceptibility of the subject to Alzheimer’s. Regular consumption of anticholinergics acted as the second-hit which resulted in MCI and later, Alzheimer’s.

Suggestions by the researchers

The researchers strongly recommend further studies to be performed on this topic to conclusively find out if anticholinergics actually cause dementia or just speed up the age-related neurological changes. More studies need to be performed for conclusive results.

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The researchers also recommend reducing the dose of anticholinergics to delay the development of MCI. They found that the elderly which composed the sample population were given a higher dose of anticholinergics compared to the young ones due to the difference in metabolism.

For now, the reduction of dosage may be crucial until further studies can be performed. 


Association of anticholinergic medication and AD biomarkers with the incidence of MCI among cognitively normal older adults

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