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Sleeping Medications Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease and Death

James Meschino DC, MS, ROHP

A very eye-opening study was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open) in Feb 2012, which showed a strong correlation between the use of prescription sleeping medications and increased risk of cancer, heart attack, death and other health conditions. The lead researcher was Daniel Kripke from a renowned Sleep Center in San Diego. His research team followed over 10,000 patients who were taking prescription sleeping pills during the study period of 2.5 years, and compared health-related events to almost 24,000 individuals, who were not taking these prescription drugs. The drugs incriminated were the standard benzodiazepine medications (such as valium, ativanetc) as well as some of the newer classes of drugs we see advertised on television (e.g. ambien). In a published statement co-author of the study Robert D. Langer ( Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Jackson, Wyoming) said, “We tried every practical strategy to make these associations go away, thinking that they could be due to use by people with more health problems, but no matter what we did the associations with higher mortality held.” ( )

I personally have always wondered why the medical profession would use these drugs as the first line of treatment in sleep disorders, as it has been shown that sleep disorders in adults is primarily a result of an age-related decline in melatonin secretion from the pineal gland. Melatonin helps put us into a deep sleep. Melatonin is also an important brain antioxidant, immune modulator, and higher levels are linked to a reduced risk of cancer, especially breast and prostate cancer. Melatonin supplementation has been shown to be a safe and effective therapy for insomnia, and the side effects include better free radical protection of brain cells (which may reduce of Alzheimer’s disease according experimental studies), improved immune function and reduced cancerrisk. Dr Lissoni in Italy showed the medical community several years ago that melatonin supplementation is an important aspect of treating breast and prostate cancer (as part of adjunctive management of these cancers).

I prefer to provide patients with a supplement that contains melatonin, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP), GABA and bacopamonnieri. The 5HTP enables the brain to make more melatonin (and serotonin) if it requires it, GABA stimulates the GABA receptors to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality and bacopamonnieri (used in India) is proven to help preserve memory as we age and block free radical damage to brain cells (a very important anti-aging effect).

We knew a long time ago that benzodiazepine drugs (like ativan and valium) can result in physical and psychological dependency (addiction) if used on a regular basis. Now we learn that these drugs, and the newer generation of sleeping pills, may also increase risk of cancer, heart attack, premature death and other health ailments. If you have been prescribed sleeping pills I would suggest that you speak with your doctor about getting weaned off of them, and try a more natural route, using a supplement combining the  safe and effective agents outline above (melatonin, 5HTP, GABA and bacopamonnieri). The side effects of this combination may help reduce your risk of cancer, keep your immune system strong, and protect your brain from age-related free radical damage, without risk of dependency.


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