Friday, September 3, 2010

Are the medications we use a factor in Alzheimers and Parkinsons?

A few years ago, some very poorly publicized studies suggested that long term use of drugs and medications which alter the amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, can injure the dopamine and serontonin receptors. This includes the use of medications in the often used SSRI group (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) which prevent the brain from absorbing the feel good chemical serotonin. These are used to combat depression and other uses including losing weight.

A book called "PROZAC BACKLASH" by Dr Joseph Glenmullen brought out another little known but possibly noteworthy, complication of these meds - the brain, like other places in the body is a finely balanced system - flooding it with serotonin causes it to produce greater amounts of dopamine to counteract what it detects as a "problem" and in the long run, said Glenmullen, this can cause Parkinsonism.

He pointed out that any stimulant has a similar effect and thus can raise the risk for Parkinson's disease and this causes me to wonder about even those well accepted stimulants like the caffeine in coffee.

Parkinsons is very common these days - could something so mild as our coffee drinking habits be contributing?

The fact is, medications have side effects - so do drugs and caffeine is a drug albeit people don't think of it as that because it's so commonly consumed.

In the NY Times recently a study was reported on which suggests that party drugs which give a "high" like meth and cocaine can damage dopamine receptors.

The article naturally, in the media fashion, emphasized the ill effects of meth and cocaine - drugs which most readings of that periodical won't be using but I have not seen much in the media about the real dangers of the SSRI's - the so-called Prozac group of medications which are widely in use.

Perhaps the legal drugs won't bring folks to the "edge of personal ruin" like the extreme case the NY times talked about... unless a case of Parkinson's would be considered somewhat ruining - I would consider it so.

Today I heard about two people I know - one formerly scholarly, talented university professor and the other, a talented string player who had chaired a section in a symphony orchestra - both downed with Alzheimers.

Everyone has heard of the nuns study on Alzheimers which was supposed to give us the exact cause of the disease (nuns allowed their brains to be dissected after death). It was a long carefully run study according to the book by the head researcher and midway into the study, they had a theory... nuns with alzheimers seemed to have smaller brains than those who retained their mental prowess.

But then came a 94 year old who was extremely mentally sharp, up to her death, teaching others, caring for nuns in the elderly home etc. When they dissected her brain, they found it was much smaller than another nun who'd had Alzheimers for several years.

"Now we are back to first base again," wrote lead researcher, David Snowdon, in his book published in 2007, "Aging with Grace"

Although the study revealed a lot about how to stay healthier and more mentally alert in one's Autumn years, it apparently left researchers with more questions than answers about Alzheimer's.

I continue to wonder though, could the chemicals we consume be a factor in some of these brain disorders? I would bet it's a good possibility.