The new dementia scare: brain health is the key


Preserving brain health is the key and that starts with the brain cells

The newspapers never make for happy reading these days but when a report describing a link between dementia and some commonly used medications broke we had an influx of queries from worried individuals of all ages. True enough, the study was looking at the use of certain regularly used drugs in older people but the very fact that there did appear to be a link sent shock waves through communities of medication reliant people. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine this January and involved 3434 individuals aged 65 and over. The important thing to note here is the fact that none of these individuals exhibited any signs or symptoms of dementia at the start of the study, which lasted 2 years.

Over the study period it became apparent that medication belonging to a group known as anticholinergics appeared to be closely associated with a worrying trend, that of dementia symptoms in those people using that specific class of medication. The dementia-medication relationship was even dose related with those people using the higher doses being at greater risk. When the researchers looked closer at the data they also discovered that talking the minimum effective dose over extended periods of time had the same effect as taking a high dose of the medication. In other words, even a low dose taken over a prolonged time placed the person in the highest risk category and increased the risk of developing dementia!

Despite this study being an observational one, and by its very design unable prove the link or make categorical statements such as ‘anticholinergic drugs cause dementia’, the results do raise some real concerns and I for one would not fancy taking anticholinergic agents for an extended period of time!

Is there a safe amount of time when these drugs can be used?

While the dust settles on the actual implications of these findings it’s not a wise move to stop any medications that fall into this class of drugs before chatting it over with your doctor who may be able to offer reassurance or an alternative. It is also important to note that while this was an observed effect it was only noted in people who took anticholinergics daily for three years or more. Sadly, the study has opened more questions than it has answered and there is no agreement on what a safe level of an anticholinergic drug is in connection to prolonged use and its potential to increase dementia risk. Remember, even a low dose taken regularly over time pushed people into the highest risk category.

So, what exactly are anticholinergic agents?

In a nutshell, anticholinergic agents are drug compounds that block the neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters are specific chemicals released by nerve ending that allow the various nerve fibres to ‘talk’ to each other. Out of interest, to date there have been over 100 different neurotransmitter chemicals identified with acetylcholine being the first to be identified back in 1915.  By blocking the actions of acetylcholine the anticholinergic agents exert effects on many body systems simply because the actions of acetylcholine touch so many aspects of the day-to-day functions of the body. In an attempt to make the effects of anticholinergic agents more specific a range of drugs have been developed to they are more tissue or organ specific but as you would expect, this is not without side effects. Anticholinergic agents are commonly taken for a variety of health problems but the most statistically significantly results in the current study involved the following prescribed medications (note: the list below details the actual drug name not a brand name);

  • xybutynin chloride, 5mg
  • chlorpheniramine maleate, 4mg
  • olanzapine, 2.5mg
  • meclizine hydrochloride, 25mg
  • doxepin hydrochloride, 10mg

It is also worth noting that the US study mentioned the drug Benadryl by name as one implicated in the dementia scare. However, in the UK the Benadryl product contains a different compound compared to the US version, which contains diphenhydramine. Keeping with the antihistamine theme, newer versions of allergy medication often describe themselves as non-drowsy because they are not anticholinergic agents. Cetirizine, for example, of one such antihistamine that may be confused with older allergy medicines. Since certirizine has no anticholinergic effect is not implicated as posing a dementia risk.

Natural brain protectors

Looking on the positive side, there does appear to be some real help out there when it comes to preserving our mental facilities. Interestingly, caffeine can counteract the symptoms of anticholinergic drug use such as drowsiness by boosting the activity of acetylcholine by binding to specific regions of the nerve ending that normally get stimulated by a compound called adenosine. By blocking adenosine and attaching itself to adenosines receptor area caffeine enabled the additional release of extra acetylcholine thereby reversing drowsiness and enhancing memory and cognitive function. So long as you are not overly sensitive to the effects of caffeine a cup or two of coffee may actually offer some real benefit in battling the effects of ‘brain fog’ or cognitive decline.

Another natural agent with a less easy to remember name has been the focus of memory related research for many years. It is known as phosphatidylserine and it forms a vital component of the delicate membrane that surrounds all the cells of our brain, nervous system and body. Cell membranes are made up of fats known as phospho-lipids. This gives our cells flexibility, a vital factor in cellular health. The latest research in the field suggests that having a healthy cell membrane may hold the key to long-term brain health. Without this flexibility specialised processes that only occur within the walls of our cells simply can’t function. Many of these processes involve cell-to-cell communication using transmitter chemicals such as acetylcholine. If the cell membrane is ‘stiff’ and there is a lack of acetylcholine its fairly easy to see how basic functions such as cellular communication will start to fail. In the brain, this means a poor transmission of impulses and thoughts! In other words, our memory will fail if the brain cells can’t chat!

Phosphatidylserine plays a pivotal role in maintaining membrane flexibility and is thought to be a vital compound needed in the maintenance of memory and cognitive functions, possibly offsetting dementia. In fact, in 2003 the American FDA gave a qualified health claim status to phosphatidylserine that allowed labels to state that "consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly". Despite the FDA also commenting that this claim was based on very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly. However, what we do know is that phosphatidylserine can only support brain function in a positive way and in light of the latest news may be a useful natural agent in repairing brains exposed to these medications. Intake data published in 2002 about its use in elderly people has indicated that 200mg taken up to 3 times a day appear to be safe.

So, in conclusion, it may be wise to chat to your doctor if you are taking anticholinergic medication or have been taking them on a regular basis for 3 years or more, even at a low dose. In the mean time, may be consider taking some phosphatidylserine or a special blend of phosphatidylserine that is combined with EPA and DHA (fish oils) known as PS-IQ made by the Canadian Manufacturer Natural Factors, may be washed down by a nice cup of coffee!


Try this gluten free recipe tonight


If you are a member of the Vegetarian Society (UK) did you now that you can get 20% of all Vegetarian Society Approved products sold on
Simply call the society (Tel: 0161 925 2000) and get your unique members discount code and enter it at the checkout - its easy!

Apple and rosemary crowns with wild mushrooms and puy lentils

This recipe is egg free This recipe is dairy free This recipe is gluten free This recipe is wheat free Suitable for vegans

Preparation notes

Serves 4 
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 50 minutes


For the potato crowns:
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped
1kg potatoes, peeled
40g vegan margarine
2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the filling:

2 onions, finely sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
300g mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp soy sauce
100ml vegetable stock
20ml vegan white wine
75ml soya cream
150g cooked puy lentils
100g wild mushrooms
100g pine nuts
25g vegan margarine

To garnish:
Chopped chives
A little paprika

1. Preheat oven to 190C.
2. For the potato crowns: Cook the apple in a small saucepan with a splash of water until stewed. 
3. At the same time, place the potatoes into boiling water. Cook for five minutes or until tender and then mash.
4. Add the apple, margarine, rosemary and spring onion to the potato, then season with salt and pepper.
5. Place the potato mixture into a piping bag and pipe into individual serving dishes to create the crowns.
6. Place the crowns in the oven for 15 minutes or until crispy. Alternatively, brown under a grill.
7. For the filling: Gently fry the onions, garlic and paprika in the oil for 10 minutes. Add the mixed mushrooms and soy sauce. Cook for five minutes then add the stock.
8. Add the wine, soya cream and lentils, then cook for five minutes.
9. In a separate pan gently sauté the wild mushrooms and pine nuts in the margarine.
10. To serve: place the mixed mushroom filling in the middle of each dish and top with the wild mushroom and pine nut mixture.
11. Garnish with chives and paprika.
© The Cordon Vert vegetarian cookery school

Apple and rosemary crowns with wild mushrooms and puy lentils

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This months recipe from our friends at the Vegetarian Society

Apple and rosemary crowns with wild mushrooms and puy lentils


7 winter skin care tips


Our poor skin has a lot to deal with during the winter months as frost nips at our toes, howling winds redden our noses and cheeks and icy temperatures make our bodies shiver, so it’s only natural that it complains a little!

What’s to blame? That nasty combination of dry, cold weather, wind and central heating turned up to the max is the culprit and can really play havoc with your skin, leaving it feeling dry, itchy and even flaky. At this time of year your skin really needs an extra helping hand. Even the best skin care routine can falter under the pressure of the cold weather outside and the drying temperatures in our cosy homes inside.

So taking a bit of extra care, adding some much needed moisture back into your skin and some simple lifestyle changes could make all the difference to helping banish your winter dry skin blues.

My 7 winter skin care tips

1. Moisturise, Moisturise, Moisturise!!!

Ok, I know this sounds a bit obvious, but you would be surprised just how many people forget to moisturise during the winter months. Just because your skin is covered up with jumpers, gloves, tights and trousers, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Make sure you moisturise from head to toe everyday and gently ex foliate once a week to get rid of any dead skin cells. Applying your body lotion/oil immediately after showering will help to lock in moisture and apply again before going out and before going to bed.

When choosing a body lotion, make sure it’s as natural as possible and opt for organic products in order to reduce the chemicals you put on your skin. These chemicals may make your body smell nice and promise to leave your skin silky soft but they are often very drying and can cause skin allergies and reactions.

2. Hands up

Our hands can suffer terribly in the winter. Always wear gloves when you are outside and make sure you moisturise your hands often, especially before going out and after washing your hands.

When washing your hands, try not to use antibacterial soap. Studies have found that this type of soap can actually cause dry skin and hand eczema.

3. Soothe your dry patches

If you have dry, chapped skin, Bioforce Cream is ideal to help nourish and repair cracks in over-exposed skin, whilst also protecting the skin from chapping and softening rough patches. Its nourishing formula is ideal for treating dry patches and common dry areas, including elbows, knees and feet. Cracked or chapped lips also respond well to this cream, which can be put around the lips and nose to avoid windburn or chafing in cold weather.

4. Put some moisture back in the air

When it’s freezing and blowing a gale outside, nothing feels better than being tucked up inside with the central heating going full blast. Am I right? Well, I’m sorry but your skin wouldn’t agree!

Central heating is one of the worst culprits for sucking the moisture out of the air and your skin. So if you want to keep your house nice and cosy and your cheeks nice and rosy try turning your thermostat down slightly (to a comfortable setting) and think about investing in a humidifier – great for putting moisture back into the air.

If you don’t want the expense of a humidifier, a simple trick is to put a bowl of water on or near your radiator to help replace the moisture that has been lost. As it heats up, the water will evaporate into the air, increasing moisture.

5. Keep hydrated

One of the simplest and most effective things you can do for your skin is to drink more water, especially during the winter months. Skin keeps water out, but we need quite a lot of water inside, to plump up the skin and keep it fresh.

Remember too that dehydration is a common cause of dry skin, so a lack of water, combined with other skin drying winter factors, could make your dry skin even worse! Try to avoid caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and fizzy drinks as these can dehydrate you further. Instead, stick to plain, still water if possible, or decaf coffee and tea, and herbal tea.

6. Ditch your hot baths & showers

Nooooo I hear you cry! Sometimes the best thing about winter is being able to soak in a nice long hot bath or enjoy a steamy shower, but unfortunately, over exposure to hot water is a very common reason for dry skin. It might feel great at the time but it strips away the natural oils that protect and tighten the skin and dries it out. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a bath or shower (things could get smelly if it did), just try to keep them shorter and a little cooler.

7. Don’t forget your lips

Our poor lips often suffer the worst in winter, ending up chapped, dry, sore and prone to cold sores. Whilst everything else is covered up, our lips are at the forefront of those drying winter blues! Our first instinct is to lick our lips when they feel dry, but try not to do this as this actually helps dry them out faster.

Ensure you keep them nourished and hydrated by using a lip balm regularly throughout the day and before you go to bed at night, look for natural based lip balms and avoid petroleum jelly.

Why? you ask. Well, at first, your lips will feel silky smooth but because your skin doesn’t actually absorb petroleum, the results will be superficial. Being water repellent, petroleum jelly acts as a barrier and strips the natural oils from your skin, causing chapping and dryness.

At this time of year, winter bugs, stress and extreme weather conditions are common triggers for cold sores. To kick that nasty cold sore to the curb, increase your intake of Vitamin C and take Echinacea to help boost your immune system and speed up the healing time. Bio-Propolis ointment can also help to soothe your cold sores – even if they have already erupted. The great benefit is that if you miss the tingle stage, it will still work.


Annmarie is a green beauty enthusiast who is passionate about natural and organic skincare and makeup. She regularly blogs about health and wellbeing, as well as her journey to discover more about green beauty and living.

Her love for green beauty and natural health began when she started working for A.Vogel – from then she has let nature be her guide every day, exploring new natural products and green brands to improve her well-being both inside and out…and her skin has been thanking her ever since!

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By A. Vogel's Annmarie

Green beauty enthusiast

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