Anxiety and sleep drugs drive up dementia risk

I'm no psychic. Heck, I don't even own a crystal ball. And, no, I've never won the lottery on a hunch.

But, I did make one prediction about seven months ago that's just come true. And that was that sometime in the future I would be warning you, once again, about the dangers of sleeping pills.

That time is today. And today we’re talking about dementia risk. In that Guide to Good Health back in March, titled "Death by sleeping pill," Back in March, I explained that some sedatives used to treat anxiety and insomnia had been linked to an increased risk of cancer and early death.

According to a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), these prescription sleep pills--benzodiazepine drugs like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and temazepam (Restoril)--could skyrocket a light user's risk (just 18 pills a year) of death by three and half times over non-users.

And if you're a heavy user... upwards of 132 pills a year... you might want to start picking out a burial plot, because it turns out you may be five times more likely to die an early death than your non-using friends.

Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, the BMJ study turned up another frightening finding. The most frequent users of these anxiety and sleeping drugs were found to have 35 percent higher risk of developing a major cancer during the study period.

Benzo's going from bad to worse

Now, if these were the only bad reports that had ever surfaced about these drugs, I might not have ever made that prediction. But, as I'm sure you've already guessed, they weren't.

A few years ago, if you were a reader of GTGH you learned about a published report that had analyzed the cases of 14,000 sedative users and found that they had a 36 percent greater risk of dying. And it was folks over 55 that faced the biggest risk.

About a year before that I reported on the bizarre cases of sleep walking, sleep eating, sleep sex, and even sleep driving (yes, really) that were being linked to some of these pills.

And, of course, benzodiazepine drugs are associated with an increased risk for falls in the elderly. In fact, one study found that the class of drugs that benzodiazepines belong to, psychotropic drugs, more than doubled the odds of falling for both elderly men and women.

Dementia associated with anxiety drugs

Now, a NEW study in BMJ is linking those same benzodiazepines to yet another risk. (Not to mention making my prediction come true.) And if you have passed through the spring chicken years, and are now happily among the mature set, then you're going to want to pay especially close attention to this latest finding on dementia risk

According to researchers, if you're a senior taking a benzodiazepine you're a staggering 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who have never taken the drugs.

Let me repeat that...50 percent more likely to develop dementia.

And that dire figure was arrived at after they had adjusted for the things that we already know can affect brain function like high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, living alone, and age.

The authors of the study called the findings, if true, "A substantial health concern." And they warned that we still need to explore whether these drugs are associated with an increased risk of dementia for those under 65 as well.

I agree. But it also seems pretty clear that regardless of whether you're over or under the age of 65, the potential side effects of these drugs should already be of concern to you.

If you're STILL on a benzodiazepine for insomnia or anxiety, for goodness sakes make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible and ask for help getting off of them. Your brain health...or your life...may literally depend on it.

To reduce anxiety you might want to give fish oil a try instead. One study found that it can slash anxiety symptoms by 20 percent in three months. (Just be sure to take a mixed-tocopherol vitamin E with it to keep the fish oil from breaking down too quickly.) Also, red clover has been shown to be an effective anxiety reducer for post-menopausal women.

And if it's sleep troubles that you're struggling with, I had some tips for skipping the sedatives and getting a good night's sleep at this link.