Can pain relievers help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease?

Some two dozen studies suggest that using pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others) or naproxen (Aleve) can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. However, other studies on these pain relievers and Alzheimer's presented contradictory results.

Called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), these medications block enzymes that promote inflammation, pain, and fevers. Scientists suspect that NSAIDs protect against Alzheimer's by reducing brain inflammation that may occur during the disease's development. In addition, experimental evidence suggests that ibuprofen may decrease the production and accumulation of beta-amyloid.

The largest study to date, published in the journal Neurology, relied on medication records from nearly 50,000 people with Alzheimer's disease and about 200,000 without dementia. All were from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and nearly all were men. Those who took ibuprofen and other nonaspirin NSAIDs for one year or longer were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

However, a study in the same journal found contradicting results: among heavy NSAID users, the risk of developing dementia was 66% higher than in those who did not use NSAIDs or who used them rarely. Because the participants in this study were older adults, researchers believe that NSAID use may help delay the onset of Alzheimer's, but not prevent it. Additional research has further correlated heavy NSAID use with increased incidence of Alzheimer's dementia.

NSAID medications also have a variety of side effects. For example, people who take ibuprofen on a routine basis may develop stomach problems, including gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers, which often occur without warning. And frequent use of the NSAIDs naproxen and celecoxib (Celebrex) may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Concern about safety led the National Institutes of Health to suspend enrollment in a large study evaluating the potential of these drugs to prevent Alzheimer's disease. However, the researchers are still following people who enrolled in the study before recruitment was suspended to learn whether the drugs can safely reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. At this time, NSAIDs are not recommended solely for preventing or slowing the course of Alzheimer's disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.