Anticholinergic drugs block the function of neurotransmitter acetylcholine (responsible a.o. for brain signaling) and are prescribed to treat a variety of conditions, from asthma and motion sickness to allergies, gastrointestinal disorders and schizophrenia. However, in the long term these drugs turned to worsen your brain health. To give an example, taking just one strong anticholinergic medication for 3 years increases a risk of developing dementia by 50% in healthy people over the 11-year period of time. So, imagine how bad the influence of drugs with anticholinergic properties can be in people with already some brain disorders, such as schizophrenia.

In a recent study, the researchers investigated how anticholinergic medication impacted cognitive functioning of 1.120 study participants with schizophrenia. They found that 63% of participants had an anticholinergic cognitive burden (ACB) score of at least 3. Just to compare, an ACB score of 3 in a healthy, older adult is an indication of cognitive dysfunction and a 50% increased risk for developing dementia. Moreover, roughly 25% of participants had ACB scores of 6 or more.

Researchers were not surprised by the high ACB scores of participants as people with schizophrenia receive multiple psychotropic drugs with anticholinergic properties for different symptoms, such as psychosis, anxiety and insomnia.

The problem is that psychotropic drugs are not seen as typical anticholinergic medication on the first place. That is why the researchers suggest to consider ACB score before prescribing medications for patients with schizophrenia. Furthermore, they advice to reduce anticholinergic medication in a holistic way, if possible. This can be done by f.e. changing some psychotropic medications to others with lower anticholinergic properties, or using complementary approaches to enhance cognitive functioning. As reducing anticholinergic drugs is related not only to better cognitive function, but also an improved quality of life.

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Tatsiana Haponava, PhD

a certified nutrition coach, educator and researcher with a PhD degree

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