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Painkillers do not block Alzheimer's

24th April 2009

Common painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen have no preventive effect when it comes to Alzheimer's disease, a new study has shown.

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Previous studies had suggested that the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, might have a preventive effect on dementia.

Published in the journal Neurology, the study tracked thousands of people in their seventies over 12 years, monitoring their use of NSAIDs and whether or not they developed Alzheimer's.

Contrary to expectation, they found that the risk of dementia was in fact 66% higher in people who made heavy use of ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, which are commonly used to treat the pain associated with arthritis.

Researchers at the University of Washington studied data from 2,736 participants, who had an average age of 75 at the start of the study.

Lead researcher Eric Larson said the team had hoped to find a protective effect, but did not. He said there was no basis to suggest that NSAIDs could prevent Alzheimer's, at least not in the age group studied.

Participants in the Washington study were much older than participants in a previous study from last year, which suggested from data culled from 250,000 veterans that those who used NSAIDs for more than five years were more than 40% less likely to develop dementia.

Researcher John Breitner said it had been argued for some time that NSAID use delayed the onset of Alzheimer's, but pointed to the key difference between the latest study and previous work: the participants were older.

Breitner said studies looking at younger people who use NSAIDs would show fewer cases of Alzheimer's, while in groups of older people there might be more cases, including those that would have occurred earlier if they had not been delayed.

But he said the fundamental finding of the latest study was still an increase in the risk of dementia in the NSAID users, and called for further research to understand the results more clearly.

Alzheimer's Research Trust spokeswoman Rebecca Wood said there was no clear evidence showing an effect of NSAIDs on dementia, or even whether there was an effect.

She said work in this area was complicated, with many factors interfering with research findings. But she said that inflammation was linked to Alzheimer's, and that the investigation of anti-inflammatory drugs therefore made sense.

Wood cautioned against people taking aspirin or ibuprofen just to try to protect against dementia. The drugs could cause dangerous side-effects, including stomach ulcers and kidney problems, Wood said, adding that people should consult a medical professional with any concerns they had.

 

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