Ibuprofen to Wipe Out Alzheimer’s? Here’s What You Need to Know

By | April 2nd, 2018

Some researchers believe that ibuprofen can help prevent Alzheimer's, and a saliva test could help identify signs of the disease early on.

A new report that a simple daily dose of ibuprofen could eradicate Alzheimer’s is circling the web. While the study that has sparked this claim is worth looking into, eliminating Alzheimer’s is likely not as easy as popping a daily ibuprofen.

In the study, led by Canadian neuroscientist Patrick McGreer, President and CEO of Aurin Biotech, researchers make claims based on a previous 37-subject study they conducted that suggested beta-amyloid levels found in saliva could indicate whether someone was destined to develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Beta-amyloid is the protein that clumps together in brains with Alzheimer’s disease, eventually forming plaques that, scientists believe, cause neurons to die, crippling memory and eventually leading to death.

There’s a growing consensus among scientists, that clinical trials for Alzheimer’s fail because the disease is caught too late, when too much damage to the brain is already done. Drawing on population studies that have shown a decrease in the rates of Alzheimer’s among people taking a regular anti-inflammatory, the researchers claimed that if people took the saliva test at age 55, ten years before symptoms typically appear, it would be possible to pinpoint who needs to start on a daily ibuprofen. The problem with studies that dismissed ibuprofen as ineffective in warding off dementia is that those people didn’t take the anti-inflammatory soon enough, said McGreer.

“Unfortunately, most clinical trials to date have focused on patients whose cognitive deficits are already mild to severe, and when the therapeutic opportunities in this late stage of the disease are minimal. Consequently, every therapeutic trial has failed to arrest the disease’s progression. Our discovery is a game changer,” said McGreer.

The logic could make sense: Studies have shown that beta-amyloid plaques are associated with raised levels of  inflammation in the brain. In studies on people who experienced blows to the head in their lifetime, like football players, scientists have seen that inflammation related to injuries causes permanent damage in the brain, leading to problems with thinking and cognition. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen could theoretically reduce this inflammation and the production of beta-amyloid.

But this test was only done on 23 people with Alzheimer’s and 31 without, which is too small a sample size to substantiate the claim that Alzheimer’s can be prevented with ibuprofen, said Dan Brown, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society.

“Population studies, which gather large amounts of information from medical records from thousands of people, have thrown up an idea that taking ibuprofen and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories might be linked to a lower risk of dementia. But results of clinical trials with these drugs have been disappointing so far. The researchers’ suggestion in this paper that taking a daily anti-inflammatory drug as soon as a positive result for dementia risk is shown by a saliva test is premature, based on the evidence at the moment.”

The study also did not actually test the effectiveness of ibuprofen on slowing down or halting Alzheimer’s, and didn’t acknowledge that ibuprofen is not a harmless pill to pop.

“Long-term use of anti-inflammatories runs an increased risk of stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding, and can have harmful interactions with other medications like Warfarin. We always recommend talking to your doctor before changing your medication,” said Brown.

This study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. All authors of the study have disclosed that they have shares in Aurin Biotech, which owns the patent for the saliva test.

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