Campus & Community

Common painkillers reduce risk of Parkinson’s

2 min read

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, in the first study to investigate the potential benefit in humans of the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease, have found that regular users of these drugs had a lower risk for Parkinson’s disease than nonusers. The findings appear in the August 2003 issue of The Archives of Neurology.

The study was conducted among participants in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study ( and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital-based Nurses Health Study ( who were free of Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or cancer at the start of the research. More than 44,000 men and nearly 99,000 women were followed for 14 years and 18 years, respectively. Use of aspirin and nonaspirin NSAIDs (such as Motrin, Advil, ibuprofen, Indocin, Naprosyn) was assessed via biennial questionnaires. A total of 236 men and 179 women developed Parkinson’s disease during the course of the study.

The risk of developing Parkinson’s disease was 45 percent lower among men and women who regularly used nonaspirin NSAIDs than among nonusers. Regular use of nonaspirin NSAIDs was reported by 6.1 percent of the men at the beginning of the study and 3.7 percent of the women. A similar decrease in risk was also found among participants who took two or more aspirin per day compared with nonusers, but no benefit was found among those who took smaller amounts of aspirin per day. Additionally, increasing benefits were observed with longer duration of use of nonaspirin NSAIDs.

The results of postmortem studies suggest that inflammation is involved in the development of Parkinson’s disease and there is experimental evidence that NSAIDs are protective for the cells that are selectively destroyed in Parkinson’s disease (dopaminergic neurons), but there’s been no human epidemiologic research to support this idea, said lead author Honglei Chen, an instructor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Alberto Ascherio, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and senior author of the study, added, “Whether or not these common drugs may also benefit individuals who already have Parkinson’s disease will have to be demonstrated in randomized trials.”