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Some Pain Relievers May Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease

BY Admin  August 20, 2003 at 3:48 PM EDT

A study published Monday in the Archives of Neurology reported that adults who took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, at least twice a week had a 45 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those who did not take the drugs regularly. Those who took two or more aspirin daily got a similar protective effect from the disease.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Mya Schiess of the University of Texas cautioned that additional studies are needed to determine whether the risks of these drugs are outweighed by the potential benefit of reducing the risk of Parkinson’s. Long-term use of these anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin carry their own risks, such as stomach bleeding.

Schiess also suggested that research into anti-inflammatory drugs could lead to treatments for Parkinson’s.

Prior studies of animals had shown that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the cell death that leads to the loss of motor function that characterizes Parkinson’s disease. The new study is the first to suggest similar results in humans.

Parkinson’s researcher Michael Zigmond at the University of Pittsburgh told the Associated Press that the study was “very promising.”

“One could imagine that somewhere down the road, just like we all use fluoridated water and toothpaste [to prevent tooth decay], that many people just automatically will take … a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent to prevent Parkinson’s disease,” Zigmond said.

Anti-inflammatory drugs had previously been found to have a protective benefit against Alzheimer’s disease, said study author Dr. Honglei Chen of Harvard. The causes of both neurological diseases, which commonly strike the elderly, are unknown.

Chen and the other researchers employed data from two studies involving health workers — a 14-year study of 44,000 men ending in 1990, and an 18-year study with 98,000 women ending in 1998. The subjects were followed for a minimum of 14 years and were aged 30 to 75 at the study’s outset.

About 6 percent of the men and 4 percent of the women in the study regularly used anti-inflammatory drugs. Out of those in the studies, 415 people developed Parkinson’s.

In her editorial, Schiess noted that the study participants were relatively young and said that greater benefits from anti-inflammatory drugs might be seen in older patients at greater risk for Parkinson’s because of their age.

The findings suggest that doctors would need to treat 98 people with anti-inflammatory drugs for about 10 years to prevent one additional case of Parkinson’s.

There was no decrease in the risk of getting Parkinson’s for study participants regularly taking pills such as Tylenol that contain acetaminophen or less than two aspirins per day.

The longer study participants regularly took the anti-inflammatory drugs, the lower their risk of developing Parkinson’s became.

About 50,000 mostly middle-aged and older Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year, a number expected to increase as the U.S. population ages.

The disease occurs when nerve cells degenerate in a portion of the brain that controls muscle movement. Symptoms include tremors in the hands, arms or legs and a stiff walking gait. They tend to worsen over time and can impair daily functions. There is no cure for the disease, but medication can help control symptoms.