The well-known and widely used drugs to treat anxiety and sleep disorders are benzodiazepines. They are effective and safe if used for a short period of time. However, their long-term use can not only cause dependence, but, particularly, in older people can lead to brain health issues.
A recent study showed how benzodiazepines cause the loss of neural connections in the brain on a mice model. It turned out that benzodiazepines bind to the translocator protein (TSPO), on the surface of structures within the microglia, the immune cells of the brain. By doing so, benzodiazepines activate the microglia, which then eliminate the connections between nerve cells (called synapses).
The study showed that mice that received a daily sleep-inducing dose of the benzodiazepine diazepam for several weeks, had altered connections between nerve cells, resulted in cognitive impairments. When diazepam treatment was stopped, the effect stayed for some time, but was ultimately reversible.
As you can see, if treating anxiety or sleep disorders, you need to pay attention to what drugs you use, how long you use them, your age and your overall (genetic) risk of brain health issues, such as risk of dementia. Our body is complex and we need to treat it holistically, considering several risk factors. Remember that!
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