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New study proves steroids are not the answer to halting Alzheimer progress

  [ 25 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • February 7, 2000

A new study extinguishes hopes that low dose steroid therapy halts the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In a study conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D. C. researchers investigated the possibility that steroid treatment could offer protection against the ravages of Alzheimer’s.

Inflammation in the brain has been correlated with the downward spiral that accompanies Alzheimer’s. Lead author Dr. Paul S. Aisen and colleagues recruited, treated with either low-dose prednisone or a placebo, and compared results in 138 Alzheimer’s patients. Prendisone is an adrenocorticoid used for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effect in the treatment of an array of medical problems including cancer. Patients given low-dose prednisone started with 20 milligrams daily for one month, followed by 10 milligrams daily for one year. A gradual reduction over a four-month period concluded the study.

Results were far from promising, after treatment concluded mental function among the placebo group and the steroid group appeared to be virtually identical. In fact, participants treated with the prednisone experienced more behavioral problems than those in the placebo group.

Aisen pointed out that, “the low dose of prednisone is not helpful. It may have been too low a dose to influence the inflammatory mechanism in the brain.” However, the notion of increasing the dose is not meet with enthusiasm, it may prove to protect against the deterioration of mental function those with Alzheimer’s experience yet the side effects would most likely outweigh the benefits. Common side effects include indigestion, vomiting, headache, insomnia, weight gain and poor wound healing. Mood or emotional changes occur in some individuals and have a negative impact upon behavior.

Aisen reported that his next step consists of undergoing the same research using a different family of medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation. The study is going to focus on comparing two NSAIDs; non-prescription drug naproxen (Aleve) and prescription drug rofecoxib (Vioxx) to a placebo. Aisen anticipates that the study results will be available in 2 to 3 years.

These drugs may be able to succeed where steroids failed since they battle cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that is hypothesized to contribute to Alzheimer’s. Dr. Ian R.A. Mackenzie, of the University of British Colombia in Canada, conducted a study that is published in the same issue of Neurology as Aisen’s, and concluded from his results that NSAIDs are more effective than steroids at reducing the brain inflammation found in Alzheimer patients. The side effects from NSAID use are considerably more mild than those associated with steroid use. Possible adverse reactions consist of dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea, and headaches.

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