Media outlets in the UK have published misleading information about the efficacy of a daily dose of ibuprofen in the prevention of dementia. Headlines like the Sun’s “Painkiller ibuprofen could ‘wipe out dementia’” have prompted critical responses from experts at the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, University of Edinburgh and University College London.
The study in question was conducted by scientists at Aurin Biotech – a Canadian-based pharmaceutical company – under the supervision of neuroscientist and Aurin founder, Dr Patrick McGeer. The research concluded that a saliva test could identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. By measuring the concentration of beta-amyloid peptide (Aβ42) in saliva, researchers found that people with Alzheimer’s disease and those at risk exhibited elevated levels. They also concluded that this elevation was displayed throughout a person’s lifetime and could be tested well before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease presented.
The Aurin Biotech research team also believes that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) commonly used to treat pain and fever could be effective in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, if taken at least 6 months before diagnosis.
Critics have several issues with the representation of the Aurin Biotech research. The referenced study utilised a limited sample size – with 54 participants in total, 23 of which were identified as having Alzheimer’s disease. The research team at Aurin Biotech acknowledged that much larger sample sizes would be need to confirm their preliminary results.
Further, those identified as having lower Aβ42 levels and therefore lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease were not confirmed later as having developed the condition or not. The study referenced prior research suggesting that NSAIDs could minimise the effects of the inflammatory response linked with Alzheimer’s disease but in reality, clinical trials have failed to show any benefit. The drug ibuprofen has not been specifically identified as the appropriate NSAID for preventative use and this study did not test the ability of ibuprofen to slow or prevent the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
Claims that the results are ‘a game changer’ are also taken out of context – Dr McGeer was referring to the ability of a saliva test to identify those at risk of developing dementia before developing noticeable symptoms and therefore opening the door to potential prevention methods.
Statements from the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, University of Edinburgh and University College London strongly recommend that further studies into the use of a saliva test will be required before it can be considered as clinically useful.
Long-term use of NSAIDs carries a number of serious side-effects and while inflammation is a part of the underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, ibuprofen is not approved for clinical use in the treatment of dementia. It is recommended that people living with dementia seek advice from their medical practitioners before making any changes to their care, and only take medications that they are prescribed.