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Drugs for enlarged prostate ‘may protect against common form of dementia’

Common prostate drugs could be linked to a lower risk of dementia with Lewy bodies, research suggests (Joe Giddens/PA)
Common prostate drugs could be linked to a lower risk of dementia with Lewy bodies, research suggests (Joe Giddens/PA)

Drugs commonly used to treat enlarged prostate symptoms may also protect against a common form of dementia, scientists believe.

Researchers found men who took terazosin, doxazosin, and alfuzosin were 40% less likely to develop dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) compared with those taking other prostate drugs.

The team said there are no drugs currently available to stop or slow the progressive disorder that affects around 100,000 people in the UK, so these “promising” medicines have the “potential to greatly reduce its effects”.

Jacob Simmering, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa in the US, said: “These results are exciting because right now there are no drugs to prevent or treat dementia with Lewy bodies, which is the second most common neurodegenerative type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we can determine that an existing drug can offer protection against this debilitating disease, that has the potential to greatly reduce its effects.”

DLB is a progressive disorder that causes memory, thinking and movement problems, as well as issues such as confusion and hallucinations.

It is more common in people over 65 and tends to develop slowly and get gradually worse over several years.

Terazosin, doxazosin, and alfuzosin belong to a class of drugs known as alpha blockers, which help ease urinary symptoms by relaxing the muscles of the bladder and prostate.

Previous research has shown drugs such as terazosin can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease – another neurodegenerative disorder – by boosting energy production in brain cells.

For the study, published in the journal Neurology, the team looked at health records of more than 643,000 men with no history of DLB who were taking different types of prostate drugs.

The men were followed for an average of three years to see who developed DLB.

The team calculated that for those taking terazosin, doxazosin or alfuzosin, the rate of DLB cases was 5.21 per 10,000 people per year, while for those taking other prostate drugs such as tamsulosin and 5ARIs, the rates were 10.76 per 10,000 and 7.78 per 10,000 respectively.

Prof Simmering said: “More research is needed to follow people over time and determine whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship here, but it is promising to think that these drugs could have a protective effect on this disease that will likely affect a larger number of people as the population ages.”

Commenting on the study, Dr Julia Dudley, head of research strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK said it was “encouraging to see large studies exploring whether drugs already licensed for other medical conditions could have a protective effect for the diseases that cause dementia”.

She added: “As these drugs have already been shown to be safe for use in people, this could potentially speed up the process of testing in clinical trials.

“It is important to note, however, that this study only looked at whether people developed DLB or not, and future trials would be needed to confirm a causal link between the drug and progression of the disease.

“The study also only included male participants, despite females using the same drugs to treat urinary symptoms, highlighting the need for future research to include wider groups of people.”