How much will your brain shrink this year?

Your brain shrinks with the passing years – a smaller brain is an inevitable result of aging.

But some brains shrink faster than others. The trick to keeping your wits about you is to minimize this shrinkage. Otherwise, the faster your brain loses its size, the higher the risk of precipitously losing your memory and mental powers.

There’s an easy way to avoid an excessive loss of brain size: Stay away from a class of drugs that too many people unwittingly use.

Doctors still dish out these drugs, which include certain cold medicines that are sold as sleep aids, even though they’ve been long linked to memory loss.

Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine shows that these medicines – anticholinergic drugs – not only block the action of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter used by the nervous system and brain cells to communicate — but they can make you more liable to cognition difficulties and dementia as your brain shrivels.1

The Indiana scientists came to their conclusions by investigating the biochemical and metabolic effects of these agents. Their brain-imaging research proves these medicines speed the atrophy of brain tissue.

“These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia,” warns researcher Shannon Risacher.

OTC and Prescription Medicines

Anticholinergic drugs of various kinds are available in pharmacies for a number of different health conditions. Some are sold over the counter, others are prescribed by doctors to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep problems.

These drugs include:

  • Muscle relaxers like Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) – often used for back pain.
  • Antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) – a common OTC drug taken for allergies and to promote better sleep.
  • Tricyclic drugs like nortriptyline and amitriptyline – to suppress nerve pain.
  • Motion sickness drugs like Antivert (meclizine).

You can go here for a complete list: Avoid them like crazy. If you MUST have a particular medication, talk with your doctor about something else that will do the job.

Other Ways to Hang on to Your Brain Tissue

Along with avoiding these drugs, you can keep your brain larger by engaging in consistent exercise and staying physically fit. Research at the Boston University School of Medicine shows that middle-aged people who are fit retain, on average, significantly more brain matter than folks who never raise a sweat.2

“… (Our) study provides more evidence that certain behaviors and risk factors in midlife may have consequences for brain aging later on,” says researcher Nicole L. Spartano, a postdoctoral fellow at BU.

Ms. Spartano’s study of more than 1,200 people shows that exercisers who are fit at age 60, and who have lower blood pressure, retain more brain tissue than the unfit. The physically fit participants in this study also scored higher on tests of their memories and mental abilities.

Ms. Spartano believes that maintaining fitness helps the brain by preserving the health of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain’s neurons.

“Small blood vessels in the brain are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these fluctuations (when you rarely exercise),” she says. “Vascular damage in the brain can contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses.”

Both of these studies provide further support for what I’ve said for a long time – a do-it-yourself healthy lifestyle that includes exercise does more for your brain and body than shelling out money for Big Pharma’s problematic drugs.

And while the side effects of medications can threaten your life, the side effects of a healthy diet and exercise improve your life, helping you lose weight and look better. Plus, you’ll not only look better in the mirror, you brain will look better on the inside, too.