Commonly prescribed drug could be harmful for brain

Millions of Brits who are on this medication could be at risk of a brain disease.

A drug that is commonly prescribed in the UK, could affect the brains of users later in life, a new study suggests. Millions of Brits are prescribed antianxiety medication to manage overwhelming feelings or to sleep better at night, but the pills have been found to impact the brain’s microglial cells, The Sun reports.

Long term effect

The findings were made by scientists at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANTSO), They found that the long term use of anti-anxiety medication could interfere with the dendritic spines - a part of the brain’s neurons that help electrify and activate cells.

Researchers conclude that long term use of anxiety medication could increase the risk of developing dementia. They are however not certain as to how this happens. Professor Richard Banati is with the team of researchers and told Neuroscience News:

The knowledge gained in this work by a large international team helps in the development of anti-anxiety drugs without such detrimental cognitive effects. The specific experiment looked closely into how the long-term use of anti-anxiety drugs, such as diazepam, can alter the complex wiring of the brain.
Getty/ Westend61

Human trials

Although quite confident about the contribution of this study - conducted on mice - to knowledge on the use of these drugs, the researchers say the effects may not be the same in humans.

The drug used in the animal trial was diazepam, aka Valium which is used for the treatment of anxiety, alcohol withdrawal and seizure. The study reveal that the drug affected the brain in a way that could result in users experiencing severe fatigue and later on, dementia. The research, published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience concluded:

In addition to tolerance development and abuse liability, their chronic use may cause cognitive impairment and increase the risk for dementia. However, the mechanism by which benzodiazepines might contribute to persistent cognitive decline remains unknown.

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