Important new evidence links one of America’s favorite drugs with an increased risk of one of America’s most tragic diseases: Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system to cause drowsiness, relax muscles and reduce anxiety. They’re routinely prescribed to:
- Treat several different types of anxiety disorders and insomnia
- Ease symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Control seizures
- Induce amnesia before uncomfortable procedures
- Calm pre-surgery patients pre-anesthesia
Xanax, Prozac, Ativan, Restoril, Klonopin and Valium are among the better-known benzodiapezines.
Is the treatment causing the disease?
Many have questioned benzodiazepine’s’ safety and efficacy.
And a new study seems to bring us closer to identifying a causal relationship between various levels of benzodiapezine use and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
- People who had taken a benzodiazepine for three months or less had about the same dementia risk as those who had never taken one.
- Taking the drug for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32%, and taking it for more than six months boosted the risk by 84%.
Drilling deeper, those taking a long-acting benzodiazepine were at greater risk than those on a short-acting formulation.
Seems like pretty convincing data, yes? But “convincing” isn’t necessarily “conclusive.”
A counter-factor is that benzodiapezines relieve so many symptoms that people suffer, especially with increasing age: insomnia, interrupted sleep, and anxiety, for example. It could be that taking benzodiapezines is a signal that early symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia are already in place, i.e., the drug is prescribed as a reaction to early symptoms, not a cause of them.
More research is needed. It would be tragic to learn that the supposed cure was part of the cause…but good new knowledge is always the best cure.
Other reasons to avoid benzodiazepines
The possible link to increased risk of Alzheimer’s isn’t the only reason to be wary of, and even refuse, benzodiazepines. The drug can cause some nasty, short-term problems many of which could lead to falls and other accidents:
- Drowsiness and dizziness
- Stomach upset
- Blurred vision
- Impaired coordination
- Memory loss
More? Yes, unfortunately:
- Chest pain
- Change in heart rate
- Vision changes
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin
- Odd dreams or nightmares
In 2012, the American Geriatrics Society added benzodiazepines to their list of inappropriate medications for treating insomnia, agitation, or delirium.
I recommend you don’t take them for anything. You don’t have to.
Natural alternatives to benzodiapezines
Anxiety is a built-in response to threats. Mindful meditation is a built-in response to anxiety.
It’s the practice of staying in the moment, without reacting to or judging anything. You simply sit comfortably and concentrate on how each breath feels or how a candle flame moves. Your mind will wander. That’s normal. But when your mind asks “What’s for dinner?” don’t answer or try. Just breathe deep.
Many patients tell me they’re far less anxious, happier, and enjoy life more when they meditate regularly—as I do.
Qi Gong is a Chinese stress reduction and strength building practice that dates back thousands of years. Like meditation, its anxiety-reduction benefits have been verified by clinical studies.
If you’ve seen videos of people in China doing slow, dance-like movements together, that’s Qi Gong: gentle physical movement combined with healthful breathing and meditation techniques.
There are hundreds of differently “choreographed” Qi Gong routines, including many that will reduce your stress level.
Chamomile Tea with Raw Honey has been around for centuries. It’s a classic example of how observant our predecessors were. Brew a cup. Savor it. Even meditate on it. It works.
I also recommend a healthy sniff of fresh lavender blossoms—or a few drops of lavender oil applied to your temples or your collarbone.
And laughter! Research has proved that even faking a laugh gives you a dose of feel-good dopamine. Try it—it’s fun!
There are hundreds of other natural anti-anxiety choices. Find them online. And ask your doctor before starting any of them, just in case there’s an unexpected interaction, which is rare.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: July 15, 2015