MINNEAPOLIS – An affordable medication for diabetes can also cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease onset in half, new research reveals. Pioglitazone, which is available under the brand name Actos, slows mental decline and slashes rates of the memory-robbing illness.
Researchers working with the American Academy of Neurology say the drug helps control blood sugar levels by boosting the hormone insulin. Type 2 diabetes affects over 30 million Americans. These individuals are twice as prone to dementia. Both conditions also have a link to poor circulation.
“Since dementia develops for years before diagnosis, there may be an opportunity for intervening before it progresses,” says study author Eosu Kim, MD, PhD, from South Korea’s Yonsei University, in a media release. “These results may suggest that we could use a personalized approach to preventing dementia in people with diabetes in the case that they have a history of ischemic heart disease or stroke.”
Benefits were strongest for those who also had a history of stroke or ischemic heart disease, a condition caused by narrowing arteries. They were 43 and 54 percent less likely to develop dementia, respectively. Study authors note they accounted for potentially influential factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, and lack of physical activity.
Overall, incidence fell by 16 percent among participants taking the drug, with cases falling the longer they were on pioglitazone. Case rates fell by 22 and 37 percent in participants using the medication for two and four years, respectively. The findings come from a review of 91,218 individuals in South Korea tracked for an average of 10 years, 3,467 of whom received pioglitazone. People taking the drug were also less likely to have a stroke.
“These results provide valuable information on who could potentially benefit from pioglitazone use for prevention of dementia,” Kim explains. “In some previous studies of people with dementia or at risk of cognitive decline who did not have diabetes, pioglitazone did not show any protection against dementia, so it’s likely that a critical factor affecting the effectiveness is the presence of diabetes. More research is needed to confirm these findings.”
During the study, 8.3 percent of those taking pioglitazone developed dementia, compared to 10 percent not taking the medication. Estimates project that the number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on protective lifestyle factors. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise help ward off diabetes, and dementia.
Side-effects of Actos include swelling, weight gain, bone loss, and congestive heart failure. More research is still necessary on the long-term safety of the drug and whether there is an optimal dose. No one should begin taking this drug independently as a method to prevent dementia. Any changes to your current medical routine should always first be discussed with your doctor.
The findings are published in the journal Neurology.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.