I’m a big proponent of finding ways to age-proof your body and mind, sharing tips that promote longevity, joy, and living a purposeful life. Of course we all face challenges as we go along on our journeys and I realize that those obstacles can be overwhelming. My patients today are struggling with stressors many of us didn’t even think about just a few years ago: financial insecurity, 24/7 work demands, an unhealthy work-life balance, and information overload.
The constant go-go-go behavior in our country makes caring for loved ones, adjusting to change and loss, and making meaningful choices even harder. It’s no wonder we’re being diagnosed with anxiety and depression in record numbers.
When we’re chronically worried, we aren’t sleeping well, and many people are turning to drugs like Valium and Xanax to help them relax and rest. Unfortunately, new research is raising concerns that this class of drugs, known as benzodiazepines, may be bad for our brains. An important study published in The BMJ has found that elderly adults who took these drugs for longer than three months were 51 percent more likely than those who didn’t to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s important to note that this does not prove that benzodiazepines cause Alzheimer’s.
Those involved in this study had been taking tranquilizers for at least five years before receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. So it could be that anxiety, insomnia, or depression were early symptoms of the disease and that’s why these individuals were more likely to be on the drugs.
But the researchers found the evidence of a direct link between benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s compelling enough to state that long-term use should be seen as a concern to public health. It confirms my belief that these drugs should be a last resort for extreme cases and used over a short period of time.
If you’re taking tranquilizers, don’t ditch them cold turkey; it’s crucial to work with your doctor on weaning yourself off. Then, start focusing on adopting habits that create lasting improvements, like:
- Eating nutritious, whole foods
- Getting regular exercise
- Practicing daily stress reduction
- Cultivating supportive friendships and social connections
- When necessary, seeking the help of a qualified therapist or trusted mentor
While the “just pop a pill and keep going” approach may feel doable, your body is a system and it rarely responds well to that. Instead, listen to your body. If you’re continually anxious or unable to sleep, make changes that will, over time, shift your physical and mental states. Sure, it’s not as immediate as taking medication, but it will certainly serve you well in the long run.
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.