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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Naproxen May Help Prevent Alzheimer's

Follow-up Study Shows the Anti-inflammatory Drug Cuts Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
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WebMD Health News

July 16, 2009 (Vienna, Austria) -- Could it be that anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs can help prevent Alzheimer's disease after all?

That's the suggestion from a follow-up analysis of the same study that concluded that neither naproxen nor Celebrex preserves mental function.

NSAIDs -- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- include ibuprofen (brands include Advil and Motrin), naproxen (brands include Aleve), and Celebrex. Studies that compare people with Alzheimer's disease to people who don't have Alzheimer's disease have often shown that those without Alzheimer's are more likely to be long-term NSAID users.

That led to the large Alzheimer's Disease Anti-inflammatory Prevention Trial, in which healthy people were randomly assigned to take naproxen, Celebrex, or a placebo. The goal was to determine if taking NSAIDs could prevent Alzheimer's. Studies  like this -- which compare active treatment to placebo and determine disease outcome -- are the only way to show whether a drug really helps.

But the study was stopped early after Celebrex was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

At the time, the researchers reported that taking naproxen or Celebrex for up to four years didn't slow age-related decline in mental function.

But researchers continued to follow the study participants after the study was halted. Now, an average of two years after the trial was stopped, follow-up results suggest that taking naproxen cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by two-thirds.

Celebrex also appeared to help brain function, though that finding could have been due to chance.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

Timing Is Everything

Researcher John C. S. Breitner, MD, of the University of Washington in Seattle, says he was completely surprised by the results. If confirmed, they suggest that timing is everything, he tells WebMD.

Breitner says that it turns out that many of the people taking NSAIDs who developed Alzheimer's disease early on had undiagnosed mild cognitive impairment, or memory loss, when they entered the study.

"It would appear that NSAIDs are harmful to people who already have signs and symptoms of mental decline," he says. "For people with healthy brains, NSAIDs appear to protect against the development of Alzheimer's disease."

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