According to an eye-opening new study, taking multiple drugs at the same time — a disturbing trend called polypharmacy — can cause physical and cognitive problems.
I often report about how taking multiple drugs concurrently can cause mental confusion. Especially in older patients. In fact, it can even mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
While I was in medical training in the mid-1970s, I vividly remember seeing older patients in the hospital with severe cognitive impairment. We often found that simply stopping their prescribed drugs — even for a short period of time — typically led to a rapid return of mental clarity. This change gave many patients a new lease on life.
The serious, damaging effects of polypharmacy
Eventually, studies found that entire classes of drugs could actually cause short-term confusion and even increase the risk of developing real clinical dementia over the long-term. (These drugs include antihistamines, certain pain relievers, and some blood pressure medications, among others.)
Still, other research links polypharmacy to negative physical outcomes — including fainting, falls, fractures, and even premature deaths. For example, regularly taking high doses of certain blood pressure or blood sugar drugs can cause falls and fainting. Coupled with the fact that blood pressure and blood sugar naturally drop in most people as they age, it’s quite the recipe for disaster.
Polypharmacy can particularly impair leg strength, making it difficult to get up, stand, or walk. Lack of leg strength can also increase your risk of falling. Plus, as you may recall, numerous studies show walking gait is perhaps the strongest predictor of longevity. So — anything that impairs your gait is NOT a good thing!
Polypharmacy can even impair your ability to perform simple daily tasks — like bathing or driving a car. In fact, a prior study found older men and women who took more than nine different medications didn’t perform well during simple activities of daily living — even when accounting for the effects of chronic diseases themselves.
Of course, the new study is particularly important because it measured both cognitive and physical performance in people taking multiple drugs. And the results were rather appalling…
Significant declines in cognitive and physical performance
For the new study, researchers with University College London studied how polypharmacy affected both cognitive and physical performance in men and women ages 60 to 64 — and at 69.
They defined “polypharmacy” as use of five to eight drugs at the same time. (Eighteen percent of all patients fell into this category.) And they defined “excessive polypharmacy” as the use of more than nine drugs at the same time. (Five percent of all participants fell into this category.)
Astoundingly, they didn’t even categorize anyone taking less than five drugs concurrently. Perhaps they think anything less than five drugs is normal — which is mind-blowing (literally)!
Still — using that cutoff means almost 25 percent of the participants in the study took five or more drugs at one time.
Next, the researchers assessed cognitive capability using several different standardized tests. And they measured physical capability using standard measures of chair rise speed, standing balance time, walking speed, and grip strength.
Overall, the data linked both “polypharmacy” and “excessive polypharmacy” with decreased cognitive and physical capability. And the links were stronger for the “excessive polypharmacy” group, which suggests a dose-response effect where the more drugs the participants took, the worse they performed on the standardized tests.
Furthermore, the researchers noted stronger negative associations when people took five or more drugs concurrently at both age 60 to 64 and at age 69, which suggests a cumulative effect. In other words, the longer you take multiple drugs concurrently, the poorer your cognitive and physical health.
And two more points of interest…
As expected, the researchers found that older participants with chronic diseases used more drugs. But — perhaps a little more surprisingly — they linked a lower level of education with taking more prescribed drugs.
And as this study shows — the treatments are worse than the diseases.
Maybe mainstream medicine will start getting the message to big pharma that doling out more drugs may be good for business. But it’s killing off their customers sooner…
I advise talking to your pharmacist about avoiding the wrong combinations of drugs. Or better yet, ask them how to avoid drugs altogether.
More people now use natural approaches to prevent and reverse common chronic conditions like cancer, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and lung diseases. And, guess what — they’re living long, healthy lives!
You can learn all about the simple, natural, drug-free strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s — and beyond — in my new protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” If you’d like to enroll, or just like to learn more, simply click here.
“Associations Between Polypharmacy and Cognitive and Physical Capability: A British Birth Cohort Study,” J Am Geriatr. Soc. 2018; 66(5): 916-923