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Powerful Sleeping Pills May Be Linked to Increased Alzheimer's Risk, Study Suggests

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If you're currently taking any pills for insomnia or anxiety, now is a good time to check if any of them include benzodiazepines. According to recent research from Finland, these specific types of drugs might be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The August 2018 study published in the scientific journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica included all Finnish people with newly diagnosed Alzheimer's disease between the years 2005 and 2011 and their matched controls. In total, there were 70,719 people in the study who had Alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, the control group of people without it included 282,862 people.

Researchers tracked all the participants' medicine usage since 1995 by checking the Finnish Prescription Register. As it turned out, the use of benzodiazepines and related "Z drugs" (medicines called zaleplon, zolpidem, and zopiclone, which all have a similar effect on brain cells as benzodiazepines) were all associated with a modestly increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Even though this risk wasn't necessarily huge in the study, it's worth noting that benzodiazepines have long been associated with other adverse side effects, such as confusion, impairment of memory, and incoordination, and it even has the potential for substance abuse. 

Although the clinical terms for these drugs might not sound familiar to you at first, they're used quite a bit more often than you might think. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common prescription sleeping pills are included in the classes of benzodiazepines or benzodiazepine receptor agonists. After all, benzodiazepines affect the way certain brain chemicals send messages to brain cells, decreasing any excitability and inducing a calming effect. So it's not so surprising that these drugs are also often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders. 

As always, it's important to pay close attention to everything you're putting into your body on a regular basis — especially if it affects your brain. If you're concerned about your own use of benzodiazepines, talk to your doctor.

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