Drugs and the aging brain

THE NUTRITION FACTOR

THIS IS NOT ABOUT CRACK OR heroin, or cocaine and the jet set. This is about the legitimate drugs--pharmaceuticals subjected to extensive clinical assessment and licensed by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Along with tobacco and alcohol, both of which are also legal, these legal drugs may be doing more damage to our society than are the illegal drugs. Nutrients help protect against their toxic effects.

According to the reference book, Pills Best Pills II, published by the Public Citizen Health Research Group (PCHRG), millions of older Americans are being drug-dosed into addiction, confusion, depression, memory loss, tremors, and general helplessness. Using mainstream, peer-reviewed journal sources, this book documents that more than 60 percent of people 65 to 84 years old in the general population (not in nursing homes) were given three or more different prescription drugs in a year, more than 35 percent had five or more, and 19 percent took seven or more different drugs. In nursing homes a whopping 34 percent were given seven or more drugs, and 61 percent had mind-altering drugs. At least 10 percent of all dementia cases were caused by pharmaceutical use, discontinuation of which led to recovery. Talk about tripping--our senior citizens, who ought to be the most protected and revered, are being strung out on a bad trip masquerading as healing practice.

Much of this ongoing scandal is attributable to poor medical practice in the context of a drug-oriented culture. Some seniors are being prescribed drugs based on the wrong diagnosis. Several of the "illnesses" for which drugs are being prescribed are due to the side effects of other drugs. Many of the drugs being given could be replaced by safer drugs. Sometimes a lower dose of the same drug could be used with less risk. Many doctors prescribe drugs because they believe they are expected to do so, yet studies indicate they often fail to advise about possible side effects.

The three categories of drugs that are most over prescribed are the psychotropics (those that affect the mind), cardiovascular drugs, and gastrointestinal drugs. This time we'll talk about just the psychotropics. These are the tranquilizers, the sleeping pills, the antipsychotics, and the antidepressant drugs. According to PCHRG, of the so-called minor tranquilizers diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clorazepate (Tranxene) are the most overused: some 1.5 million older adults are being given such drugs daily for a year or more even though there is no evidence that they are effective for more than a few months. Many of the tranquilizers, Valium for example, are also used as sleeping pills.

Flurazepam (Dalmane), triazolam (Halcion), and temapezam (Restoril) are the sleeping pills that are most overused. In 1991 more than a half million older people used such drugs daily for one month or longer, even though there is no evidence that they are effective for that long. Here's an idea of the scope of the problem from these less-dangerous mind-active drugs:

More than two million older Americans are addicted to minor tranquilizers and sleeping pills;

At least 160,000 people have mental impairment either entirely caused by or worsened by drugs;

At least 16,000 injurious car accidents each year, involving older drivers, are caused by benzodiazopines, tricyclic antidepressants, and other mind-affecting drugs. So also are hip fractures numbering about 32,000 per year.

If all this seems bad, it pales in significance when compared to the antipsychotic drugs, sometimes called major tranquilizers. The antipsychotic drugs are the major culprits in drug-induced Parkinson's disease and other serious adverse drug reactions. More than 70,000 older adults have developed tardive dyskinesia (TD) from antipsychotic drugs, even though most of these people were not psychotic to begin with. More than 60,000 older adults have developed parkinsonism; 80 percent of these people did not have schizophrenia or other psychoses which would justify placing them on these drugs. Often the doctor does not suspect it is the drug which caused parkinsonism, and places the patient on another drug to treat the disease caused by the first drug.

Here then we have a drug-induced epidemic of brain damage which disproportionately affects older adults. The brain-related side effects can be cognitive (confusion, memory problems), motor (tardive, parkinsonian), mood (depression, anxiety), or psychotic (psychoses, hallucinations). At least 10 of the most heavily-prescribed drugs can cause brain damage in two or more of these categories.

A major reason why older people are affected so seriously by drugs is because their livers and kidneys are not functioning as well as before. Poor circulation lowers blood flow through these organs and makes an already bad situation even worse. Many people who are prescribed pharmaceuticals are also taking over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that add to their total drug load.

Most drugs on the market today were not clinically tested on the elderly. Drugs are xenobiotic substances--the are foreign to the chemistry of the body, intruders to the design of life. As they reach the liver, which is the body's main means for detoxication, they challenge the liver's resources of cell membrane surface to process them, and of antioxidant and other nutrient reserves with which to neutralize them. Many drugs trick the liver into transforming them to new substances, which in some cases are more potentially toxic than the parent compound.

Many people who take pharmaceuticals do not know that alcohol, caffeine, and certain OTC drugs can pre-activate the liver so that when it receives drugs from the intestines it makes even higher levels of the bad drug products. These can damage the liver, then escape the overburdened liver to circulate around the body and damage the brain, kidneys, and other organs.

What can we do about all this? First, get educated. Worst Pills Best Pills Ii should be in every home, purchased from Public Citizen Health Group in Washington, D.C. Next, educate your doctor--take in a copy of this well-documented book, along with a bag with ALL your drugs in it. Then look for safer alternatives. The obvious options here are life style revision, dietary revision, exercise, and the use of dietary supplements.

When an individual is prescribed a drug for a disease or other troublesome condition, unless he or she changes his or her way of living, the money spent on drugs is money down the drain. Reducing toxic exposures and stress, improving on the SAD (Standard American Diet), and developing a program of moderate exercise are changes that are crucial to reducing dependence on drugs. These life improvements should go hand in hand with dietary supplementation.

The predominantly health-giving effects of individual nutrients and mixed dietary supplement formulations stand in direct contrast to the predominantly health-threatening effects of many pharmaceuticals. Where drugs artificially treat symptoms, nutrients support structure and function through the body's natural mechanisms. Where drugs harm the liver and other organs, the nutrients support organ maintenance, renewal, and recovery from toxic attack. In the face of a modern barrage of toxic agents, the phospholipid nutrients phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylserine (PS) are best proven by decades of controlled clinical trials, for generalized support of the liver and the brain, respectively. These are both key membrane nutrients for all the body's cells.

To help directly neutralize drug-derived toxins, the antioxidant nutrients are crucial. N-acetylcysteine helps protect against acetaminophen damage to the liver, as do the flavonoids of milk thistle extract; vitamin E helps slow the worsening of tremor and other motor decline. The B vitamins and the minerals are the foundation of every nutritional program, being indispensable for all the major enzyme pathways. All these nutrients are more readily emulsified when in the presence of PC, and this improves their bioavailability. PC (phosphatidylcholine) is well validated from controlled clinical trials as a liver protectant against alcohol toxicity, a progressively worsening threat to the liver for which no satisfactory drug regimen exists. PC is actually a broadspectrum liver protectant. Its supplementation helps liver cells make new membrane surface and consequently helps speed clinical recovery from liver damage inflicted by pharmaceuticals. Its sister molecule PS is globally beneficial for brain cells, and in addition to the antioxidants, the B vitamins, and the minerals, the energy nutrient aceylcarnitine also benefits the brain.

The benefits of nutrient supplementation are profoundly positive. In any situation where organ system dysfunction is impairing health and well-being, nutrients can usually be targeted to that system in amounts sufficient to stop the damage progression and support the organ to rebuild some of the lost function. PC and PS, when integrated into a nutritional program, can have profound rejuvenative effects on the liver and the brain that are achieved with virtually zero risk of side effects. Nutrients work more gradually than do most drugs, but heal at a fundamental level and to a degree that is extraordinary for drugs.

Drugs do exist that have unquestionable benefits and save lives. But unconditional reliance on pharmaceuticals is a losing health strategy for the consumer. The mood-altering drugs encourage the troubled person to avoid reality. Drug-oriented medical practice seeks to make drugs seem unconditionally okay, under-representing their toxicity and thereby exposing the already-ill person to more serious illness.

I dare not advocate brain nutrition, food for thought, without advocating food for the spirit. The drug mind-set is linked to an alienated way of living that encourages disconnection from family, friends, and community The predictable consequence of such social disconnection linked together with drug use (illegal or legal), is that the very self at the core of the human organism is in danger of becoming disconnected from reality. Without an intact personal sense of purpose, self-empowerment, and motivation to live life to its fullest, the biological aspects of being alive are less fun, and inadequate to guarantee health and well-being. It has to be you taking charge of your own self because until you do, others can't help you effectively. More on drugs and quality of life in issues to come.

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by PARRIS M. KIDD, Ph.D.

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