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New Evidence That Ibuprofen Lowers Parkinsonís Risk

In a new epidemiological study, researchers found that people who took ibuprofen rather than other common pain medications had a 30 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD).  The study appears in the March 2, 2011 online edition of Neurology.

Ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil® and other brands) belongs to a class of medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammation drugs (NSAIDs). Inflammation in the brain is considered to be a possible cause of Parkinson’s, and previous studies have inconsistently suggested that people who take NSAIDs have a lower-than-average risk of developing Parkinson’s. Unlike earlier studies, the new research considered separately the association between PD and different pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol®, for example), aspirin (which is an NSAID), ibuprofen and other NSAIDs.

Researchers led by Xiang Gao, M.D., Ph.D., at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School examined new data collected over a six-year period from participants in two long-term studies. Participants in these studies answered a detailed health questionnaire every two years, providing information about which medications they took. 

Out of 136,197 participants, 291 were newly diagnosed with PD during the timeframe of the study. The scientists used statistical methods to investigate associations between the use of various pain medications and PD. Then, using a technique known as meta-analysis, they added to their analysis the results from five other previous studies, including their own, that investigated NSAID use and PD.


  • People who took ibuprofen had a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s than people who took no pain relievers.
  • People who took ibuprofen had about a 30 percent lower risk of developing PD than people who took other NSAIDs, including aspirin, or acetaminophen, even at a low dose of one to two tablets a week.
  • The more ibuprofen tablets study participants took, the lower their PD risk in this study. People who took the highest doses of ibuprofen — six or more tablets a week— had the lowest PD risk.
  • In general, participants who took pain relievers had a higher body mass index (BMI), consumed slightly more caffeine and more alcohol, were more likely to be ex-smokers and less likely to be current smokers, and had a higher prevalence of gout and arthritis.
  • No significant association was found between PD and any medication other than ibuprofen.


What Does it Mean?

This study highlights provides further evidence about NSAIDs and Parkinson’s risk, which again brings up questions about the role of inflammation. A better understanding both of these could shed light on new targets for PD drugs. 

The study’s prospective design, in which participants were asked about their medication use and followed up for many years before developing PD makes its findings more credible than others. For example, an alternative design, in which people with PD and controls are retrospectively asked about medication use, is subjected to more bias.

However, this is an epidemiological study and a few more steps need to be taken before doctors would recommend long-term use of ibuprofen. First, the mechanism by which ibuprofen is linked to lower risk for PD is unknown. The study authors suggest that ibuprofen works through a different molecular pathway than other NSAIDS. Second, clinical trials assessing the hypothesized neuroprotection are required. While ibuprofen has many side effects, they are usually mild and can be tolerated by most people.  Still people living with Parkinson’s should speak with their doctors before beginning any new medication.

Source Date: Mar 04 2011