One of the most common over-the-counter drugs on the market — a drug taken regularly by more than half of American adults, according to a recent National Institute of Health survey — may also hold the key to combatting the tragic brain disease known as Alzheimer’s, the most frequent cause of dementia in older adults, according to a new scientific study published Monday.
The study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tested the effects of common, everyday aspirin on the brains of laboratory mice and found that aspirin stimulates production of lysosomes, which are tiny packets of enzymes found in every cell in the body. But lysosomes also act as “tiny garbage-disposal units that clear cellular debris,” according to a report on the study by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.
The lysosomes help clear out a waste substance in the brain called amyloid plaque, according to the study published in The Journal of Neuroscience on July 2. Amyloid plaque is believed to be a major factor in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s, though even that hypothesis has become controversial, according to a report by the science site New Atlas.
Nonetheless, the researchers say that their study, while not definitive, shows promise for using the common medication — already used in low doses to treat cardiovascular conditions as well as for pain relief — could prove a key to solving the puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease.
“This research study adds another potential benefit to aspirin’s already established uses for pain relief and for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases,” Kalipada Pahan, a senior author of the research paper, said as quoted by New Atlas. “More research needs to be completed, but the findings of our study have major potential implications for the therapeutic use of aspirin in AD and other dementia-related illnesses.”
But other scientists who examined the research results were skeptical of the Rush Medical Center conclusions, saying that while the study’s findings on how aspiring helps clear out the harmful plaque, the research showed no actual effects when it came to relieving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or improving brain function — and in fact other studies have failed to show that aspirin has any effect at all on the disease.
“Clinical trials of aspirin have already been performed in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The drug had no beneficial effects on outcome measures and was associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal hemorrhage,” said Rob Howard of University College London, speaking to the United Kingdom Press Association.
Peter Passmore, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, cautioned that Alzheimer’s patients and their families should not take the study as a green light to start self-treating with aspirin, according to Newsweek.
“It is important that patients do not start to self-medicate with aspirin in the hope of preventing or mitigating Alzheimer’s,” he said, cautioning that aspirin has also been associated with increased risk of bleeding in the brain.