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Shocking, but potentially promising way to treat Alzheimer's - Lupron

July 22nd 2006

Shocking, but potentially promising way to treat Alzheimer's - Lupron


For the last several years, the main drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease has been Aricept, but its benefit isn't long-lasting, spanning maybe 18 months to 2 years. Yet surprisingly, a randomized study out just this week has added another clue to the mystery of this tragic disease - a drug called leuprolide (brand name Lupron) commonly used to treat prostate cancer, breast cancer, and endometriosis was found, after 12-48 weeks, to significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer's.

Lupron's mechanism of action is that it blocks LH (luteinizing hormone), which prompts the pituitary gland to produce gonadotropins, hormones that stimulate the ovaries and testes to produce the high levels of estrogen and testosterone necessary for reproduction.


This drug is given as a shot and helps to treat recurrent fibroids or endometriosis and is used as a way to induce temporary menopause in early and late stage breast cancer patients; it also shuts down testosterone production in men with prostate cancer.

The baffling thing about this new, yet inconclusive, Alzheimer's study to some scientists is how this observed benefit could possibly be real, since this is a drug that blocks the "brain protective" hormones estrogen and testosterone. However, if researchers are truly following all of the current, available evidence surrounding hormones' effects on cognition, this study should NOT be a surprise! In fact, a lot of valid scientific evidence points to the contrary, that excessively high levels of reproductive hormones throughout life may be bad for the brain.

The most conclusive data to date, at least in women, comes from (yet again) the WHI (Women's Health Initiative) which surprised everyone when the trials found stroke and memory risks (including dementia) for women on estrogen or estrogen/progestin. While this study may have been a shock, there were other observational data out years before this study that spelled trouble. The Rotterdam study, for example, evaluated the natural estradiol levels of older women to see if there was any association with cognition. Surprisingly, the women with the highest levels had a doubled incidence of vascular dementia and a slightly greater risk of Alzheimer's.


In April 2000, another study conducted by Terry Manolio of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, looked at the MRIs of the brains of 2000 women, half of whom were taking estrogen. Again, the estrogen users' brain scans showed slightly more decay than the non-users. Dr. Manolio herself didn't know what to make of this and worried that this would scare women off of their hormone replacement since it was basically a given that the therapy was beneficial! Also, a laboratory study out of Emory that went virtually unnoticed involved sophisticated cognitive tests of older female cynamalgous monkeys who either retained their ovaries or had them removed at a young age. Comment on this Article at our Forum

This study, according to the scientists, actually found a PROTECTIVE effect of ovary removal on spatial-visual memory in the older monkeys. And lastly, a small study out from Urbana-Illinois, reported this Janurary, showed that high levels of fitness counteracted the cognitive decline associated with longterm HRT use. Again using brain MRIs of 54 women, this study found that those who used HRT for 10+ years had decreases in the 4 different areas of gray matter in the brain, but that exercise lessened these decreases. While only the WHI is truly definitive out of all these studies, it seems clear that hormones do not have any preservative effects on thinking and cognitive abilities.

Based on this data, hormonal decline with age should no longer be viewed as a bad thing, but rather a natural protective mechanism. Secondly, attempting to replace hormones is fraught with multiple hazards. Third, the healthiest lifestyles are those which actually lessen the effects of reproductive hormones on the body's organ systems. Obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease, colon and reproductive cancers, and probably dementia, is a condition involving excessive estrogens and androgens.

Exercise and a diet than keeps weight down have long been known to be beneficial, although the precise mechanisms haven't been clearly pinpointed. Hypothetically, it may be a hormone lowering effect. Taking all of this into account, it seems that scientists should have enough basis to be pooling their efforts into exploring the effects of hormonal manipulation as a way to prevent/treat Alzheimer's, stroke, and other serious brain degenerating diseases.

A word of caution in all this - to espouse the widespread, longterm use of drugs that BLOCK hormones (be it Lupron or whatever else comes along) is just as bad an idea as HRT was!! Both are clearly disrespectful toward the natural intricacies of human biology. Instead, a more accurate interpretation (at least in terms of this latest Alzheimer's research) is that both menopause in women and the natural age related androgen decline in men do not trigger the aging process but are instead inherent natural processes that PROTECT us from diseases. And Alzheimer's, perhaps the scariest of all, might just be one of them. We now know that hormones don't need replacing. And we also have good reason, at least from a hormonal standpoint, to be espousing widespread modalities aimed to lessen the overweight epidemic in this country, considering all of the various other diseases associated with it. Conclusive answers are not yet in, but the puzzle is certainly coming together.

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Jonathan Raymond

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