This week, my husband was stung by a bee and had a mild reaction. The Epi-Pen we had on order was still on back-order, so the pharmacist recommended taking Benadryl. We said “NO” having read a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine that showed compelling evidence of a link between use of anticholinergic medications like Benadryl and dementia.
[I’ll tell you the natural alternatives we used in a minute.]
Anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine which transmits messages in the nervous system. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory.
Exposing Previously Hidden Dangers in Benadryl
The Harvard Medical School article I’d read said the study:
- Included 3434 participants 65 years or older with NO dementia at study entry
- Looked at pharmacy records and total doses, prescription and OTC, dispensed in the past 10 years
- Participants’ health was tracked for seven years
- During that time, 800 of the volunteers developed dementia
- Researchers found that people who used anticholinergic drugs (like Benadryl) were more likely to have developed dementia as those who didn’t use them
- Results: Taking drugs with diphenhydramine for the equivalent of three years or more had a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less
Benadryl – The Blockbuster Drug
In 1943, Benadryl, or diphenhydramine, was the first effective antihistamine developed that didn’t cause extreme drowsiness. It proved to be a drug sensation, and was at first prescribed for what it was intended:
- strong allergic response
- insect stings
But soon it became so popular it was also used for symptoms that had nothing to do with need for an antihistamine such as:
- sniffling and sneezing-type allergies
- cough and cold symptoms
- motion sickness and nausea
Scientists began to notice the antihistamine often elevated mood, and they set out to create the first generations of antidepressants. In the 1970s, the molecule diphenhydramine (Benadryl) was “rearranged” to create Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant. (source)
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the active ingredient diphenhydramine could increase the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy.
Benadryl (aka Diphenhydramine) in Many OTC Sleep Medications
Diphenhydramine is the most common ingredient found in dozens of OTC sleep medicines. There are many more than I have listed below. Check labels carefully.
Why is it so easily available and recommended for regular use?
Addiction to Benadryl is possible. People do develop a psychological dependence on the drug, thinking they won’t be able to get to sleep without it.
Common Side Effects of Diphenhydramine
Side effects include nausea, vomiting, increased chest congestion, excitement (especially in children), erectile dysfunction, constipation, dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, muscle weakness, blurred vision, difficulty and painful urination, nervousness, and dizziness.
Also, confusion and delirium, rapid and irregular heartbeats, irritability, short-term memory loss, hallucinations, muscle spasm and twitching.
When mixed with alcohol or with virtually any other drug that is sedating, the effects will be exaggerated and dangerous.
Considering its profound effects on the brain, which can linger for days, it’s a mystery how this drug could be recommended by any thoughtful health professional for such complaints as seasonal allergies and insomnia, when there are so many better and safer alternatives.
Diphenhydramine and Driving
The National Highway Traffic Highway Association states “Diphenhydramine has repeatedly been shown to severely impair tracking and reaction time performance in actual on-the-road driving tests. Diphenhydramine clearly impairs driving performance, and may have an even greater impact than does alcohol on the complex task of operating a motor vehicle.” This is a serious drug that interacts dangerously with many other common medications and causes enough drowsiness in most people to make driving risky.
Benadryl is not recommended for Anaphylaxis
Mayo Clinic says Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), IS NOT sufficient to treat anaphylaxis. This medication can help relieve allergy symptoms, but works too slowly in a severe reaction. An Epi-Pen or its generic version is a must.
We used Apis mell. 30x and Ledum 30x like this immediately for my husband plus eucalyptus and rosemary (relax airway) and lavender (calming) with a carrier oil on the sting and his throat. It was moderately-severe, and we were able to find an Epi-pen just in case.
Top Natural Remedies for Insomnia
- Magnesium Calm non-flavored (as directed, 30-45 minutes before bedtime)
- Melatonin (1-3 mg half hour before bed) Helps promote sleep, best used for a short period of time.
- Calms Forte (homeopathic, no drugs, take as directed)
- Somnapure – herbal blend (2 tablets 30-60 minutes before bed)
- Passionflower (500 mg before bed) Helps relax the nervous system and doesn’t cause drowsiness.
- Valerian (600-700 mg before bed) Is effective for insomnia, but may be a stimulant for some. It’s pretty amazing that a herbal remedy like valerian root can have the same anti-anxiety effects of prescription drugs without all the serious side effects of psychotropic drugs.
- Calcium and magnesium together (500 mg calcium/250 mg magnesium) These minerals work together for relaxation.
- Vitamin B12 (1500 mcg daily) Vitamin B12 supports cellular function and a deficiency can cause insomnia.
- Diffuse lavender EO before bed and during sleep to reduce stress and improve sleep quality.
- Eat melatonin-rich, sleep-inducing foods like bananas, cherries, ginger or radishes as a bedtime snack.
- Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. One study suggests taking 2,000 mg. or more daily.
- Allergy Health contains 4 of these natural histamines (Amazon Choice product)
- Boiron Children’s Sabadil for hayfever, itchy and water eyes, sneezing, runny nose, and itchy throat and nose (Amazon Choice product)
- Bromelain is popular for swelling or inflammation, especially of the sinuses and following injury or surgery.
- Quercetin is a natural antihistamine that helps stabilize mast cells to prevent both the manufacture and release of histamine.
- Stinging nettle leaf blocks histamine receptors. The leaf can function just like Allegra or Claritin with none of the side effects.
- Boiron Histaminum Hydrochloricum 30C is a powerful remedy for stopping histamine reactions. (Amazon Choice product)
- Euphrasia Officinalis (eyebright herb) has been utilized since the middle ages as a tool for treating all sorts of allergies and allergy related symptoms
- Probiotics help balance of gut bacteria and boost a person’s immune system, which can help the body fight off allergies.
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