Aspirin is already used for pain relief and as a treatment for cardiovascular disease and even cancer, Medical News Today reports—and now a new study published in PLOS One finds it could also be useful in the fight against Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. The central factor in the new findings: salicylic acid, the "primary breakdown product of aspirin," per a press release. An enzyme called GAPDH, if put under stress due to a lack of oxygen being delivered to the brain, can enter the nucleus of neurons, and once there it leads to cell death. GAPDH is believed to play a big role in diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's, and one anti-Parkinson's drug blocks the enzyme from entering the nucleus. The new study finds that salicylic acid binds to GAPDH and also bars it from entering.
Further research found that both a lab-synthesized derivative and a natural derivative of salicylic acid (the natural derivative comes from the herb licorice) bind to GAPDH even more tightly, and do an even better job at blocking its entry into the nucleus and causing cell death. As such, "salicylates may be of therapeutic value in the treatment or even prevention of several widespread and devastating neurodegenerative diseases," the study states. Adds the senior author, "A better understanding of how salicylic acid and its derivatives regulate the activities of GAPDH ... coupled with the discovery of much more potent synthetic and natural derivatives of salicylic acid, provide great promise for the development of new and better salicylic acid-based treatments of a wide variety of prevalent, devastating diseases." (If you're over 50, here's why you should take aspirin.)