Scientists say a common headache medicine dramatically reduces the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a physically-disabling brain disorder that mostly strikes elderly adults.
In a six-year study of just over 136,000 nurses and health professionals, researchers at Harvard University School of Public Health in Massachusetts found that people who take ibuprofen regularly for headache or other pain reduced their risk of developing Parkinson's disease by nearly 40 percent.
Taking one or two pills of ibuprofen two or more times per week was considered regular use. Other non-prescription pain relievers, including aspirin and acetaminophen, did not show a similar protective benefit.
Researcher Alberto Ascheiro says ibuprofen appears to affect a neural pathway that has been implicated in the development of Parkinson's. The disease causes difficulties in movement and uncontrollable muscle tremors.
At this point, Ascheiro says, experts do NOT recommend that people start taking ibuprofen to prevent Parkinson's, which typically strikes people 65 years of age and older.
"Parkinson's is a relatively rare disease, so we are not expecting millions of people to take ibuprofen to prevent Parkinson's," said Ascheiro.
On the downside, ibuprofen can cause stomach, kidney, liver and urological problems if not used carefully.
Ascheiro says researchers will now be studying whether the medication benefits those who have been diagnosed with the disease, a population that numbers an estimated six million people worldwide.
"What we will really need to prove is that if they take ibuprofen they will do better in the long term," added Ascheiro. "So what we need to do is a large trial, clinical trial, to test whether ibuprofen could be helpful in people with Parkinson's."
A study describing a possible link between ibuprofen use and a reduced risk of Parkinson's is published in the journal Neurology.