(CBS) Pop a pill to prevent Parkinson's disease? A new study says it's possible, and the pill in question isn't some experimental marvel that's still years away from drugstore shelves.
It's plain old ibuprofen.
The study showed that people who take the popular over-the-counter painkiller two or more times a week are 38 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's, an often-debilitating disease that causes tremors and impaired movement and walking. It affects about one million Americans.
"Our results show that ibuprofen may protect the brain in ways that other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and analgesics, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, cannot," study author Dr. Xiang Gao, of Harvard Medical School, said in a written statement.
For the study, which was published in the March 2, 2011 online issue of the journal "Neurology," Gao and colleagues used questionnaires to track ibuprofen use by 98,892 female nurses and 37,305 male health professionals. After six years, 291 people were diagnosed with Parkinson's - and the risk was lower in ibuprofen users.
What explains ibuprofen's brain-protecting effect? One possibility, Dr. Gao said, is that it targets a receptor in the brain with the tongue-twisting moniker peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor y (PPARy).
No worries. Gow says more research on ibuprofen's "neuroprotective effect" is needed in any case. Even if the effect is confirmed, experts say ibuprofen isn't something to be taken likely.
"Long-term ibuprofen use has a lengthy list of risks," the Mayo Clinic's Dr. James H. Bower wrote in an editorial written in conjunction with the study. According to the Mayo Clinic website, side effects range from stomach pain and bleeding problems to coma.
So maybe don't rush out to your drugstore just yet.