Can a Sleep Drug Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk?

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A sleep drug may have preventative effects against Alzheimer’s disease.

Watch any drug commercial, and you will note prescriptions have side effects.

A lot of them.

Some sound worse than the benefits provided by the drug!

In some instances, people find taking a drug for one health condition can sometimes help with other symptoms or conditions.

According to a recent MedPage Today article titled “Alzheimer’s Proteins Reduced by Sleep Drug,” a small study conducted by Brendan Lucey, MD, MSCI, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and his co-authors found a specific sleep drug may have peripheral benefits.

A sleep drug could help with Alzheimer's.
Further research is required to evaluate the connection between sleep drug suvorexant and reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

The researchers gathered a small sample of 38 participants for the proof-of-concept, two-night sleep study.

These individuals ranged in age from 45 to 65, were primarily women at 68.4 percent, mostly white at 78.9 percent, showed no cognitive impairment, and had neither clinical sleep nor neurologic disease.

Participants were divided into three groups through randomization.

The first group consisted of 13 people who received 10 mg of the drug suvorexant.

The second group comprised 12 people who received 20 mg of suvorexant.

The final group consisted of 13 people who received a placebo.

Every hour for 36 hours, the researchers tested cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

This first CSF assessment was taken one hour before administering the placebo or sleep drug.

What were the results?

The researchers observed those who took the insomnia drug suvorexant 20mg demonstrated a 10 percent to 20 percent fall in their amyloid-beta levels five hours after taking the medication compared with those who took a placebo.

The sleep drug did not reduce phosphorylation at tau-threonine-217 or tau-serine-202.

Twenty-four hours after the first dose of suvorexant was administered, an increase in p-tau-181 was noted.

The suvorexant 20 mg group still had lower amyloid levels during this time.

After administering the second dose on the second night of the study, those who received the 20 mg saw both protein levels fall again.

Compared to the placebo, there was no statistically significant effect on the amyloid protective or the p-tau-181 protein.

Sleep efficiency, total sleep time, time in REM, and time in non-REM sleep were not significantly increased by either dose of suvorexant.

Why is this study important?

While there is still much to learn about the relationships between sleep and Alzheimer’s, researchers are piecing together more information.

Although there is a known connection between sleep disruption and the buildup of certain proteins, there is still uncertainty about whether the protein buildup leads to poor sleep or poor sleep leads to protein buildup.

There has been evidence of the orexin system playing a role in Alzheimer’s development.

Suvorexant is an orexin receptor antagonist.

What is orexin?

The neuropeptide orexin promotes wakefulness.

Previous research in mice has shown dual orexin receptor antagonists can reduce amyloid plaques and amyloid-beta levels.

Because the sleep drug suvorexant demonstrated a change in CSF tau and amyloid responses even without impacting sleep, the researchers are hopeful that the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain will decrease over time if amyloid levels could be reduced a little every day.

According to Lucey, tangle formation and neuronal death could be decreased through reduced tau phosphorylation found in the suvorexant sleep drug study results.

Although additional research should be conducted following long-term effectiveness in preventing cognitive decline, the sleep drug itself has been proven safe and readily available.

Curious about the side effects?

I thought you were.

Click here for a Mayo Clinic overview.

Reference: MedPage Today (April 21, 2023) “Alzheimer’s Proteins Reduced by Sleep Drug

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