Are Prescription Drugs Making You Age Faster?
These days, the older you get, the more likely you are to be taking prescriptions drugs. Three out of four people over 45 take, on average, four different drugs a day. Side effects are common, and some of those side effects are often mistakenly thought to be the result of normal aging! Since you know your own body best, you might be the only one who realizes that a drug is causing a particular symptom, like forgetfulness or muscle weakness.
Here are three commonly-prescribed types of drugs, all with side effects that can make you feel or act older. Often you can minimize these side effects or find alternatives for problems your doctor may think are simply the result of getting older.
This class of drugs inhibits the action of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, relaxing smooth muscles and stopping spasms or constriction in the bladder, intestines, airways and blood vessels. Anticholinergics include incontinence drugs such as Detrol (tolterodine), drugs used to treat high blood pressure such as Adalat or Procardia (nifedipine), the stomach antacid Zantac (ranitidine) and others.
But these drugs have a scary side effect that can sneak up on you. Researchers have found that people who take anticholinergic drugs are more likely to walk slower and become dependent on others for help, and that happens “even in older people who have normal memory and thinking abilities,” said Kaycee Sink, M.D., the study’s lead author. “Adults taking a moderately anticholinergic drug, or two or more mildly anticholinergic drugs functioned like someone three to four years older.”
Combining these drugs can be really bad news. Researchers also found that people who took drugs for dementia and anticholinergic drugs for incontinence at the same time had a 50% faster decline in function than those who were being treated only for dementia.
Alternatives to Anticholinergics
- For incontinence: Low-grade chronic infection or inflammation can cause this problem. Try unsweetened cranberry juice or a cranberry supplement, garlic extract and probiotics to reduce infection, and anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and vitamin E. Drink plenty of water. Dietary aggravators can include caffeine, alcohol and excess sugar. If you are post-menopausal, plant-based estrogens can help stress or urge incontinence. Try taking 250 mg of black cohosh and 50 mg of soy isoflavones daily. Kegel exercises can help strengthen the muscles that hold back urine.
- For high blood pressure: Cut back on sugar and salt, and get more potassium by eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Get more calcium and magnesium from diet or supplements. (Aim for 1,000 mg a day of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium.) Fish oil supplements and garlic extract can also help reduce blood pressure. Exercise, like walking, helps too.
- For stomach acid: Supplemental digestive enzymes may improve symptoms and help treat digestive problems naturally, especially if they include uncomfortable feelings of fullness even when you haven’t eaten that much, belching, heartburn, gas, bloating, and constipation. Eat smaller meals, don’t lie down for at least an hour after eating (better yet, take a walk) and avoid carbonated drinks.
2. Sleeping Pills
Non-prescription sleeping pills contain antihistamines, which can leave you drowsy and forgetful the next day, and can cause dry mouth and eyes, constipation and urinary retention. Prescription sleeping pills such as Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone), and Sonata (zalepon) have their own set of side effects, including memory lapses, increased risk of falls, hallucinations, muscle aches, constipation, daytime sleepiness, trouble concentrating unsteadiness and rebound insomnia.
Alternatives to Sleeping Pills
- Try melatonin, a hormone that can help regulate your natural sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin may be helpful for people who have trouble falling and staying asleep at night. Take 3 mg about half an hour before bedtime.
- Get regular daily exercise. A walk can set the stage for a restful night. For most people, the best time to walk for better sleep is late afternoon or early evening. Meditative exercises like yoga or tai chi can also help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Try an herbal tea designed to help you sleep. Look for teas made with valerian, hops, passion flower, chamomile or lemon balm. Avoid alcohol. Even though it can make you drowsy, it ultimately disrupts sleep.
- Put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow. Lavender really does help you relax.
3. Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs
These widely-prescribed drugs include Vytorin, Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor, Mevacor, Pravachol and Lescol. They all block your body from making cholesterol, but, at the same time, they also block production of CoQ10, which is important for energy production. Doctors are familiar with the muscle and liver problems these drugs can cause, but they tend to discount the ability of these drugs to cause chronic aches and pains, numbness, weakness, confusion, fatigue, shortness of breath, amnesia and other forms of memory dysfunction, hostility, aggression and depression. If you must take a statin, take CoQ10 to reduce the side effects. We recommend 100 to 300 mg a day.
Alternatives to Statins
- Try red yeast rice instead. Consider replacing your statin drug with red yeast rice, which contains several compounds known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis. We recommend 1,200 mg a day.
- Take a soluble fiber supplement such as psyllium, every day, instead of a statin drug. Soluble fiber absorbs cholesterol from bile acids and excretes it from your body.
- Try a combination of several supplements, such as fish oil, garlic extract, phytosterols or policosanol, which have been shown to help regulate cholesterol levels. Fish oil is known to reduce inflammation and some research has shown that it may be even more effective than statins at saving lives. Garlic is known to have a wide range of cardiovascular benefits. Phytosterols, natural substances that occur in plants, are known to block cholesterol absorption sites in the intestine. Policosanol, another plant extract, has been shown in studies to help raise HDL and decrease LDL.
Prescription drugs, with all of the side effects that accompany them, have become a part of getting older that people often just take for granted. But, as it turns out, many medications have side effects that can make you feel older, faster! Don’t assume that there aren’t alternatives to prescription drugs, as some doctors and pharmaceuticals ads would have you believe. It’s worth at least seeking out other means to improve your symptoms, before relying on a drug to do so.