BRISBANE: Using the common painkiller ibuprofen may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to new research.
A long-term study of more than 130,000 health workers found that those who used ibuprofen twice a week or more were 40% less likely to develop the disease, according to a presentation at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada.
Parkinson’s disease occurs when dopamine-producing neurons die off in the brain, affecting patients’ control of their body movements, but no-one knows what causes the loss of neurons.
Inflammation in the brain
However, inflammation has consistently been observed in the brains of Parkinson’s disease sufferers, said study author Xiang Gao.
Researchers wondered if non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol could protect against the neurodegenerative disease.
“Experimental studies have also shown that several NSAIDs alleviate the loss of dopaminergic neurons,” said Gao, a neuro-epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, US.
136,474 subjects followed for six years
Gao asked 136,474 nurses and other health professionals to fill out a questionnaire on their use of anti-inflammatory drugs and other suspected risk and protection factors for Parkinson’s disease, and followed them up for six years.
By the end of the study, 293 had developed Parkinson’s disease, but the more ibuprofen subjects took, the less likely they were to be affected, Gao said. Other NSAIDs did not have a significant effect.
The results were the same even when other known protective factors, such as smoking, exercise and caffeine intake, were accounted for, Gao said.
Other risk factors may need attention too
The study also found some potential risk factors that need further investigation, such as having used pesticides, a family history of melanoma, and even having light hair colour, Gao said.
The next step is to check that ibuprofen has the same effect in other populations, Gao said, and to find out if taking ibuprofen can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease once it has begun.
“[This research] really helps to solidify the neuroprotective effects of ibuprofen against Parkinson’s disease,” said Kim Gerecke, a neuroscientist at Rhodes College in Memphis, USA. “The data is comprehensive, and the use of such a large sample size allows for the detection of subtle effects.”
“Since there is no treatment to cure Parkinson’s disease, prevention really is the best medicine,” Gerecke said.