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Seven Very Dangerous Over-The-Counter Drugs

Seven Very Dangerous Over-The-Counter Drugs Just because you don't need prescriptions to buy over-the-counter (OTC) drugs doesn't mean they don't contain powerful medication, they do. If you aren't careful, certain OTC medications can cause severe, even potentially deadly, side effects.

A new special report from the Health Sciences Institute shines a light on eight of the worst offenders. These are medications that most people think are perfectly safe, but they really pose quite a substantial threat to your overall good health.

Sominex and Nytol

The key ingredient in Sominex and Nytol is a chemical called diphenhydramine hydrochloride, the same active ingredient found in Benadryl. As anyone who's taken these drugs can attest, they will make you drowsy, which sounds like a dream come true if you're struggling with insomnia. But when you take diphenhydramine hydrochloride, you get a lot more than nighttime drowsiness. In fact, you're setting yourself up for a whole host of potentially dangerous side effects, especially if you make these sleeping pills a regular part of your nighttime routine.

A 2001 study conducted by doctors at Yale-New Haven hospital found that diphenhydramine hydrochloride, the key active ingredient in Sominex and Nytol, appears to contribute to cognitive decline. In fact, it turns out that this drug can be especially dangerous for people ages 70 and over, even after just one dose. In the Yale study, none of the 426 patients showed any history or signs of dementia or delirium before the drug was administered. Then diphenhydramine hydrochloride (a maximum total dose of 100 mg per day) was given to 114 of the patients, while the remaining 312 were not medicated. Within 48 hours of drug administration, trained specialists found that the diphenhydramine group fared much worse on every measure of cognitive decline. Overall, the medicated group demonstrated a 70 percent increased risk of cognitive decline as compared to the controls.

Here's the scariest part: The dosages used in the study are often used by people at home. A standard dose of either Sominex or Nytol contains 50 mg of diphenhydramine, so just two doses in a 24-hour period could put you at the 100 mg level. Add to that the fact that diphenhydramine hydrochloride is also found in many cold and allergy remedies, and you could inadvertently take more than 100 mg in a single day.

Potential Adverse Reactions: (this is just a partial list)

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Thrombocytopenia (blood disorder)
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia (yes, you read that right)

  • Headaches
  • Difficult Urination
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Wheezing
  • Vertigo
  • Convulsions
  • Blurred Vision
  • Excessive Perspiration
Prilosec OTC, Tagamet, Zantac, Pepcid, Axid

The latest drugs for controlling stomach acid are much more than simple acid neutralizers like Tums. Rather, they're high-tech formulations that work by actually stopping acid production, a scenario that sets you up for a lifetime of digestion problems, and an increasing need for acid-blocking drugs. These medications reinforce the idea that stomach acid is bad, but that could not be further than the truth. Your stomach produces acid for a very important reason: You can not digest food without it.

The drugs in question here come in two styles: histamine H2-receptor blockers (or H2-blockers) and proton pump inhibitors. Currently available over-the-counter H2-receptor blockers include Tagamet® (cimetidine), Zantac® (ranitidine), Pepcid® (famotidine), and Axid® (nitazidine). These drugs reduce acid levels by throwing a roadblock right in the middle of the process that leads to acid secretion. While they seem to be effective for hours at a time, the long-term, continuous suppression of gastric acid secretion may have important adverse consequences for your health that are largely ignored by mainstream medical professionals. In addition, these drugs all have well-documented adverse side effects, most of which involve GI disturbances, such as:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • and yes, heartburn

Also available OTC is Prilosec® (omeprazole), a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). PPI's are the strongest of the acid-suppressing drugs. They work by blocking the action of the "proton pump," which secretes stomach acid. Just one of these pills is capable of reducing stomach acid secretion by 90 to 95 percent for the better part of a day. That, in turn, makes it nearly impossible for your body to digest food properly, so it's no wonder that Prilosec OTC side effects include:

  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

And there are far more serious side effects associated with omeprazole (though these are less common):

  • impotence
  • breast enlargement
  • joint pain
  • abdominal pain
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • rash

Unfortunately, many of the potential consequences of long-term acid suppression can take years or even decades to develop. But because they seem to have nothing to do with stomach acid, they're rarely (if ever) reported in connection with acid suppressing medications. Check out this (partial) list of long term health issues linked with these drugs:

  • skin disorders
  • insomnia
  • osteoporosis
  • gastritis
  • depression
  • pneumonia

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  • Health Sciences Institute. Urgent Research Update. 8 Very Dangerous Over-the-Counter Drugs. (
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