Scientists believe that inflammation of the brain may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Medical researchers are now examining anti-inflammatory drugs as a potential Alzheimer’s treatment.
Inflammation and Alzheimer’s: What’s the connection?
Amyloid plaques are one of the primary features of Alzheimer’s disease, but scientists are uncertain as to how they form. When these clumps of beta-amyloid build up between neurons in the brain, they interfere with neural communication. Although recent studies suggest that they may be due to inflammation in the brain, it’s still unknown whether inflammation is a cause or an effect of cognitive decline.
Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Alzheimer’s
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to reduce inflammation in conditions like arthritis and tendonitis. Researchers have conducted a number of studies on anti-inflammatory drugs and Alzheimer’s to determine whether NSAIDs might also reduce inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that anti-inflammatory drugs appear to reduce inflammation by interfering with beta-amyloid clumping, thereby reducing the buildup of amyloid plaques.
A number of popular anti-inflammatory drugs appear to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These include:
- Ibuprofen (AdvilÂ®, MotrinÂ®)
- Indomethacin (IndocinÂ®)
- Naproxen (AleveÂ®)
- Prednisone (a steroid).
Acetaminophen (TylenolÂ®), which doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, didn’t appear to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Not all studies on anti-inflammatory drugs and Alzheimer’s have been positive, however. According to a study published in Neurology (2009), anti-inflammatory drugs didn’t reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia in individuals 65 years of age and older. As a matter of fact, researchers found that heavy usage of anti-inflammatory drugs actually appeared to increase the risk of dementia.
These contradictory findings may indicate that the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs as Alzheimer’s treatment is dependant upon the timing of the treatment. For example, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation (2003) reports that there is evidence suggesting that anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease if given to individuals before they develop symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Alzheimer’s: A Warning
Although anti-inflammatory drugs do show promise as a potential Alzheimer’s treatment option, long-term NSAID use may increase the risk of conditions like:
- Heart attacks
- Kidney damage
- Peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding
As research continues, scientists will learn exactly how anti-inflammatory drugs affect Alzheimer’s disease. These findings will also allow scientists to determine whether anti-inflammatory drugs’ benefits outweigh the risks.
American Health Assistance Foundation. (n.d.) Potential Alzheimer’s treatments. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/treatment/potential/.
Breitner, J.C., Haneuse, S.J., Walker, R., Dublin, S., Crane, P.K., Gray, S.L., Larson, E.B. (2009). Risk of dementia and AD with prior exposure to NSAIDs in an elderly community-based cohort. Neurology, 72(22), 1899-1905. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181a18691.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (n.d.) Alzheimer’s research aimed at prevention. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.alzinfo.org/alzheimers-research-prevention.asp#3.
Mayo Clinic. (2008). Alzheimer’s treatments: What’s on the horizon? Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-treatments/AZ00048.
U.S. National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Aging. (1997). Anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/ResearchInformation/NewsReleases/Archives/ PR1997/PR19970310NSAID.htm.