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Ibuprofen May Lower Risk of Parkinson's Disease

Study Shows About a One-Third Reduction in Parkinson’s Risk for Regular Ibuprofen Users
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

ibuprofen pill

March 2, 2011 -- People who regularly take the painkiller ibuprofen appear to have a modestly reduced risk of getting Parkinson’s disease, a new study shows.

For the study, which followed more than 130,000 people for six years, those who reported using ibuprofen at least twice weekly had a more than one-third reduction in the risk of getting Parkinson’s disease compared to those who didn’t take the pain reliever as often.

The researchers also pooled data from six previous studies to see if the association between ibuprofen use and Parkinson’s disease would remain. They found nearly the same reduction in risk with ibuprofen (about 30%) but not with other anti-inflammatory medications, suggesting that the effect may be specific to ibuprofen.

And the more ibuprofen a person reportedly took, the lower their risk appeared to be, something researchers call a dose-response effect.

The study analysis also showed people with 10 years or more of cumulative ibuprofen use, for example, had less than half the risk of developing Parkinson’s compared to nonusers. Those with six to eight years of use had about a 25% reduced risk.

“This suggests that ibuprofen could be, and I would like to emphasize could be, a potential neuroprotective agent,” says study researcher Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. “Further studies are needed to replicate our finding.”

Caution Urged in Ibuprofen Use

Other experts agreed that the connection was promising but urged caution, particularly since the overall risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is low. About 1%-2% of people will develop Parkinson’s over the course of their lifetimes, and regularly taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs over a long period may sometimes lead to side effects including stomach or kidney damage.

“It’s my opinion that we’re not ready, at all, to advise people from a public health perspective that they should start taking ibuprofen,” says James H. Bower, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

“I thought their study, scientifically, was very sound. And the methodology was very good, strong, and I thought their conclusion was very reasonable,” says Bower, “so that’s not my issue.”

“Whenever in epidemiology you find an association, that does not mean causation. That’s where I’m being a little more conservative, a little more cautious,” he says.

“One explanation is the one we all want to believe, which is that ibuprofen may protect against Parkinson’s disease. That would be very exciting,” Bower says. “But unfortunately, there are other explanations that we might need to consider.”

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