Ibuprofen 'cuts Parkinson's disease risk'

Woman taking tablet Experts say it is too soon to recommend the drugs to protect against Parkinson's

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People who take ibuprofen on a regular basis have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, research suggests.

The drug is commonly used to ease aches and pains but US research, in Neurology journal, found it had an added benefit.

In studies of more than 135,000 men and women regular users of ibuprofen were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson's.

However, experts say it is too early to say whether the benefits of taking the drug outweigh the risk of side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding.

Heart attack

Scientists have suspected for some time that anti-inflammatory drugs might help buffer against the disease but it was unclear which ones in the family of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs conferred a benefit.

This most recent study suggests it is ibuprofen alone that has an effect.

Start Quote

We know that inflammatory changes in the brain may be involved in the death of nerve cells which cause Parkinson's”

End Quote Dr Kieran Breen Parkinson's UK

But like all NSAIDs, ibuprofen can cause worrying side effects, like an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

A recent study also linked ibuprofen taken daily for some years to a small increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The findings relate to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen prescribed long-term to treat painful conditions such as arthritis.

For this reason experts say more work is needed to determine whether the benefits of taking the drug more often would outweigh any risks.

If it did, it could offer a new way of managing this incurable neurological condition.

Nerve cells

Lead researcher Professor Alberto Ascherio, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said: "There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, so the possibility that ibuprofen, an existing and relatively non-toxic drug, could help protect against the disease is captivating."

In his study, funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation, men and women who used ibuprofen two or more times a week reduced their risk of Parkinson's disease by more than a third compared with those who regularly used aspirin, acetaminophen, or other NSAIDs.

Parkinson's

  • One person in every 500 has Parkinson's
  • People with Parkinson's do not have enough of a chemical called dopamine because some nerve cells in their brain have died
  • This causes the typical symptoms of tremor, rigidity and slowness of movements
  • This latest research was funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation - a charity set up by the US actor in a bid to find a cure for the condition after being diagnosed himself with young-onset Parkinson's

Dr Kieran Breen, director of Research and Development at Parkinson's UK, said it was difficult to know exactly what effect ibuprofen might be having on the death of nerve cells in the brain, and how it might affect whether somebody will get Parkinson's. But based on the findings of this latest study, he said there would seem to be an interesting link.

He said: "We know that inflammatory changes in the brain may be involved in the death of nerve cells which cause Parkinson's, particularly in the early stages of the condition.

"We are currently funding research into this area ourselves at the University of Oxford."

As to why ibuprofen alone might have the desired effect, the US researchers say it could be down to the fact that this drug has a specific role in blocking a biological pathway of cell damage and death.

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