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Diabetes Pill Helps Early Alzheimer's Disease

Study: Brain Disease Also Tied to High Blood Pressure, Cholesterol
WebMD Health News

July 20, 2004 (Philadelphia) -- Experts say keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check can significantly lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. And once the brain disease develops, a diabetes pill may actually improve thinking.

Specifically, researchers at the 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders reported today that diuretics, water pills that are used to treat high blood pressure, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 75%; high levels of HDL "good" cholesterol cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by 50% in women; and the diabetes pill Avandia may improve memory and thinking in people with early Alzheimer's disease.

"This is clearly evidence that all of these conditions are interrelated," says Hugh Hendrie, MDChB, DSc, a professor of psychiatry at the Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine. "Moreover, it now appears that the way we treat these other conditions may influence the brain."

Hendrie chaired a press conference where the study results were presented.

Water Pills Work Best

In the blood pressure study Ara S. Khachaturian, PhD of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine analyzed data from a three-year memory and aging study of 3,300 participants aged 65 and over.

"Users of any high blood pressure medication had a 36% reduction in [Alzheimer's] risk," Khachaturian says. "Use of a diuretic was associated with a 40% reduction in Alzheimer's risk."

He also points out that the risk reduction was greatest -- 75% -- among those taking diuretics known as potassium-sparing, such as amiloride, spironolactone, or triamterene. These are different diuretics than the commonly used hydrochlorothiazide.

Hendrie says that finding is somewhat surprising since other researchers -- himself included -- have found a lower Alzheimer's risk with all high blood pressure medications. "But it is encouraging since diuretics are very cheap," Hendrie says.

Good Cholesterol Is Key

In a second study, researchers from Harvard analyzed data from the 39,000 women participating in the ongoing Women's Health Study, looking at the link between cholesterol levels and memory and thinking problems more than 10 years later.

Elizabeth Devore, a graduate student at Harvard, tells WebMD that the data point to HDL "good" cholesterol is the most important factor in preventing Alzheimer's disease in women. "Women with the highest HDL levels -- between about 60 and 75 -- had a 50% reduction in risk for Alzheimer's disease," she says.

She says low LDL cholesterol also reduced the risk of Alzheimer's disease but "HDL is clearly more protective, which is good because we know how to raise HDL -- exercise, weight loss, and moderate consumption of alcohol." She says "moderate" alcohol is one or two drinks a day.

Diabetes Pill Improves Memory

While diuretics may prevent Alzheimer's disease, Suzanne Craft, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, tells WebMD that the oral diabetes medicine, Avandia, may improve memory and thinking ability in people with mild Alzheimer's disease.

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