A Swedish observational study suggests that drugs commonly used to treat Alzheimer’s disease may have another benefit: preventing heart attacks and premature death.
Researchers reviewed records on 7,073 Alzheimer’s patients taking cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and other brands). Over an average of about 17 months of follow-up, 831 of the patients had a heart attack or died.
After adjusting for sex, age, previous cardiovascular disease, additional prescribed drugs and other factors, the researchers found that taking cholinesterase inhibitors reduced both the death rate and the heart attack rate by about 35 percent. Moreover, the risk decreased further with increasing doses of the medicines. The study appeared in The European Heart Journal.
Critically ill patients are not usually prescribed cholinesterase inhibitors, but even excluding patients who died within three months changed the association only slightly.
The authors emphasize that only a clinical trial could prove a causal relationship, but they suggest several possible reasons for the effect, including the anti-inflammatory properties of cholinesterase inhibitors.
“It’s very interesting that these drugs have such potentially beneficial effects,” said the lead author, Dr. Peter Nordstrom, a professor of geriatrics at Umea University. “But I would not tell people to take these drugs to prevent heart attack. This is only an association, and we cannot recommend them to prevent cardiovascular disease.”