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In a recent study, researchers concluded that long-term use of certain common sleep medications, as well as many medications for allergies, and chronic pain, led to an increased risk of developing dementia (Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, online, Jan. 26, 2015). That’s right! In the study, participants were tracked for their drug use and cognitive function over more than 20 years, and the conclusion was that “the higher the dose of anticholinergic drugs and the longer such medications were taken, the greater the risk of dementia” (www.peoplespharmacy.com, “Are Your Drugs Raising Your Risk for Dementia?” Jan. 27, 2015). Even scarier, is that many of the medications that result in this increased risk are commonly used over-the-counter antihistamines, sleep aids, and pain relief drugs.

Now your next question is probably “What are anticholinergic drugs”? Simply stated, these drugs inhibit parasympathetic nerve impulses to reduce smooth muscle spasms. If you’re like most people, that probably doesn’t mean a thing. But here’s the thing, there are MANY drugs that have anticholinergic-like effects, and many of these include very commonly-used sleep-aids, nighttime pain-relievers, and antihistamines. The ingredient in question is diphenhydramine (a sleep aid) which is found in:

  • Benadryl
  • Advil Nighttime
  • Nytol
  • Simply Sleep
  • Tylenol Nighttime

Just to name a few. In fact, diphenhydramine shows up in many medications available without prescription, and these medications, when used long-term, can result in higher than normal incidences of dementia. Now if you’re like me, you’d rather not develop dementia later in life. If you are someone who occasionally uses these types of drugs, there is probably very little to worry about. However, if you are a chronic user of these types of medications, my advice would be to look for other options for your insomnia, allergies, or chronic pain.

5 Steps You Can Take RIGHT NOW to Reduce Your Symptoms of Insomnia, Allergies, or Chronic Pain

  1. Diet! Diets high in stimulants or inflammatory foods such as alcohol, caffeine, or sugar, need to be altered. You can start today! Reduce (or better yet eliminate) your consumption of wheat, potatoes, sugar, fruit juice/soft drinks, alcohol, red meat, and caffeine. Try to eat more fresh, organic (or local) fruits and vegetables. Give it an honest effort for at least a month, and I am confident you will feel better.
  2. Adaptogens! An adaptogenic substance is one that helps the body adapt naturally to cope with the effects of stress. Examples include rhodiola, cordyceps, ashwanganda, ginseng, and red reishi. For insomnia, allergies, or chronic pain, my absolute favourite is Japanese red reishi (www.facebook.com/mikeiredreishi), because in Chinese medicine terms, it has a very strong ability to optimize the functioning of the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and pancreas. It is precisely for this reason that it helps to support and regulate the immune system which makes it ideal for allergy sufferers. It also has a fantastic ability to regulate the sleep-wake cycles, and studies have shown it to have potent anti-inflammatory effects making it a good choice for chronic pain.
  3. Essential Fatty Acids! Fish oil, or if you’re vegetarian other sources of Omega 3 and 6 (such as flax seed oil) are absolutely crucial for health. They are proven to promote proper development and functioning of the brain and nervous system, and regulate liver function, immune, and inflammatory responses. It’s like a “Super Food” for insomnia, allergies, and chronic pain!
  4. Sleep posture! Good quality sleep is critical to health. Even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, proper sleep posture is important to health. The best sleep posture from the Chinese medicine viewpoint is lying on the right side with the legs slightly bent, the right arm bent and resting in front of the pillow, and the left arm resting on the left side.
  5. Acupuncture! One of the more profound effects of acupuncture treatment is improved sleep. In fact, it’s very often a “side-effect” of treatment as many patients report much better sleep even if sleep issues were not necessarily part of their presenting symptoms. I have specialized training in pain management with certification from the Blatman International Myofascial Academy, and the Society for Acupoint Injection Therapies (SAIT), and have successfully treated many conditions of chronic pain. The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a list of more than 40 conditions for which acupuncture has “shown through clinical trials to be effective therapy”, including many conditions of pain, as well as allergic rhinitis and hay fever.


A very large number of the population deal with problems of sleep, allergies, or chronic pain. Many of these people resort to chronic use of over-the-counter medications which may result in higher incidences of dementia after years of use. Non-invasive, natural therapies such as those offered at the North Van Pain Clinic could very well provide the relief from these conditions without carrying the long-term risks of taking certain medications.