A chronic inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects much more than just your joints. People with inflammatory autoimmune conditions — including RA, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease — also tend to have inflammation in their blood vessels, which increases the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
In recent years, research has suggested that inflammation also plays a key role in the development of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. That may explain why some studies have found that people with RA have a higher than average risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
While this sounds like bad news, consider this: Taking medication that directly targets the underlying inflammation seems to combat any increased risk for Alzheimer’s.
According to a new study conducted by researchers at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, people with RA or psoriasis are in fact more apt to develop Alzheimer’s — unless they take a TNF-inhibitor such as etanercept (Enbrel) or adalimumab (Humira). “Methotrexate [which is not a TNF-inhibitor] also reduced risk for Alzheimer’s… while further risk reduction was achieved in patients with a prescription history for both a TNF blocker and methotrexate,” the authors wrote.
The study, which currently appears on the preprint server medRxiv, was based on an analysis of electronic health records of 56 million patients.
This is not the first study to find a connection between anti-TNF drugs and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s: A 2016 study limited to RA patients also found that those who took etanercept were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The new study “clearly suggests that drugs that target peripheral inflammation — in particular, TNF inhibitors — have the potential to substantially reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Clive Holmes, MRCPsych, PhD, of the University of Southampton in England, told MedPage Today.