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Posted: May 13, 2008

Ibuprofen Linked to Sharply Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Long-term use of ibuprofen and similar drugs commonly used to treat aches and pains was associated with a sharply lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease in a study of nearly a quarter million aging veterans. This longest study of its kind follows previous research that produced conflicting results on whether ibuprofen lowered the risk of dementia.

For the study, which is published online in the journal Neurology, researchers identified 49,349 US military veterans age 55 and older who developed Alzheimer’s disease and 196,850 veterans without dementia. The study examined more than five years of data and looked at the use of several non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). All of the veterans received medical care and prescriptions through the VA Health Care system.

Ibuprofen, a member of the NSAID family, is generally sold over-the-counter, typically without prescription. Common ibuprofen brands include Advil, Nuprin and Motrin. Drug chains also sell their own private-labeled versions of ibuprofen.

The study found that people who specifically used ibuprofen for more than five years were more than 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Results also showed that the longer ibuprofen was used, the lower the risk for dementia. In addition, people who used other certain types of NSAIDs for more than five years were 25% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-users.

While other NSAIDs, such as indomethacin, may also have been associated with lower risks, others such as celecoxib did not show any impact on dementia risk. "These results suggest that the effect may be due to specific NSAIDs rather than all NSAIDs as a class," said study author Dr. Steven Vlad, with the Boston University School of Medicine.

"Some of these medications taken long-term decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s very dependent on the exact drugs used. It doesn’t appear that all NSAIDs decrease the risk at the same rate," said Vlad. "One reason ibuprofen may have come out so far ahead is that it is by far the most commonly used."

Vlad and others from BU’s School of Medicine were joined in the study by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health and the Bedford Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Bedford, Massachusetts.

The researchers noted that observational studies such as this one must be interpreted with the understanding that they do not prove that a NSAID has a therapeutic effect. The study is subject to what is called "indication bias," they said, meaning that it might not be the NSAID use that drove the lower risk of dementia, but rather something about the people who chose to use the NSAIDs that was responsible. They emphasized that these findings should not be taken to mean that NSAIDs should be administered to prevent dementia.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

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