An elderly woman holds and looks at a bottle of aspirin. She puts a pill into her mouth.
Recent study adds another potential benefit to aspirin’s already established uses for pain relief and for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If new research in mice bears out in humans, that daily low-dose aspirin many people take to keep heart trouble at bay might also protect their brains against Alzheimer’s.

Scientists report aspirin appeared to help clear out plaques of waste material called amyloid beta in the brain. Those plaques are a major sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The results of our study identifies a possible new role for one of the most widely used, common, over-the-counter medications in the world,” said senior study author Kalipada Pahan, chair of neurology at Rush Medical College, in Chicago.

Previous research has shown a link between aspirin and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, the scientists gave low-dose aspirin for a month to genetically modified mice with a form of Alzheimer’s disease.


Our Take

Adults thinking about working aspirin into their diet should ask an important question: Does the reward outweigh the risk?

Health professionals offer a resounding “yes” on a daily dose for just one type of person: someone who has previously suffered a heart attack or stroke. These are people who use aspirin for secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

“There is no debate if you’ve had a heart attack or a stroke,” said Harland Holman, MD, medical director at the Spectrum Health Family Medicine Residency Center. “You should be on aspirin.”

A small daily dose of aspirin, about 81 milligrams, is a suitable starting point for a person to reduce the likelihood of experiencing another heart attack or stroke, Dr. Holman said, although he cautions that everyone should first consult a doctor on the matter. Read more.

The aspirin helped reduce amyloid plaques by boosting a protein called TFEB, a regulator of waste removal, and by stimulating lysosomes, a part of cells that help clear waste. But not all research in animals holds true for humans.

Still, “understanding how plaques are cleared is important to developing effective drugs that stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Pahan.

“This research study adds another potential benefit to aspirin’s already established uses for pain relief and for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases,” he added in a Rush University news release.

“More research needs to be completed, but the findings of our study has major potential implications for the therapeutic use of aspirin in [Alzheimer’s] and other dementia-related illnesses,” Pahan said.

Alzheimer’s disease affects up to one in 10 Americans aged 65 or older. Only a few drugs are approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and those medications provide limited relief.

The study was published in the July issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.