The brain-destroying booby trap in your medicine cabinet

You've probably taken Benadryl at some point in your life. Remember how it made you feel? It's like knock-out juice: One pill and you're down for the count.

The drug works by cutting off certain signals in the brain, and it's not the only one that has this effect. Dozens of other common drugs for seemingly unrelated conditions -- sleeping pills, cold remedies, bladder-control meds, antidepressants and more -- all work the same way.

While the drowsy effect eventually wears off, the damage these drugs leave behind never really goes away.

They're called anticholinergic drugs, and they come with some serious risks you won't find mentioned on the label: dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The more you take, the bigger the risk -- and new research finds daily use for three years or more will up your odds of dementia by as much as 54 percent and Alzheimer's disease by a staggering 63 percent.

We're not talking mega-doses here, either. Just 4 mg a day of diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl) or 5 mg a day of the bladder-control drug oxybutynin, for example, could do the hatchet job on your brain.

Of course, not everyone takes these drugs for years at a time. Many people start and stop, but even that kind of use could cause serious damage. One study finds anticholinergic drugs will double your risk of cognitive decline in as little as 60 days.

Yes, just two months on an anticholinergic... less than a full allergy season... is enough to do lasting and even permanent damage in your brain. So while some docs talk about limiting the use of these drugs, I'm going to urge you to take it a step further and ditch them completely.

It's a bit of a challenge, because their everywhere, hidden in meds of all kinds -- some over-the-counter, and others by prescription. And some meds, especially cold remedies and sleeping pills, contain a mix of different drugs including an anticholinergic.

You'll have to do a little homework to find out if you're on one, but a good place to start is this extensive list prepared by the Aging Brain Program of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.

The list uses generic names, so be sure to read your labels closely to find out what you've been taking.

Fortunately, nearly every condition treated by anticholinergic drugs can be eased or cured safely and naturally. For example I often recommend the homeopathic remedies allium cepa and nux vomica to my patients to relieve classic hay fever symptoms. And for a simple plan to get your sleeping back on track without drugs read this free report from my House Calls archives.

Just don't take it on yourself to suddenly quit one med and start another -- work closely with a holistic medical doctor.

And if you're in Southern California, I can help. Make an appointment to see me at my clinic in the San Diego area. Not in the area? I'm also available to offer advice by phone. Call 855-DOC-MARK to schedule a consultation.