- Researchers are investigating if popular drugs used for diabetes and weightloss may help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.
- The drugs, which belong to a class of medications called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists, work by altering the metabolic system and lowering inflammation throughout the body.
- Trials evaluating the ability of these drugs to combat cognitive decline are already underway, however, results aren’t expected until 2025.
The drugs, which belong to a class of medications called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists, work by altering the metabolic system and lowering inflammation throughout the body.
Trials evaluating these drugs’ ability to combat cognitive decline are already underway, however, results aren’t expected until 2025.
But given their ability to fight inflammation, a
“These drugs show great promise in slowing or preventing onset of cognitive decline in those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. David Merrill, MD, PhD, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told Healthline.
With brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, a protein called amyloid accumulates and forms plaques.
Over time, these plaques can affect cognitive function.
Some scientists think that diabetes drugs may prevent amyloid buildup.
“Alzheimer’s disease has also been called ‘diabetes type-III,’ so it is hopeful that in mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients with metabolic syndrome including insulin resistance or frank diabetes will benefit from treatments for diabetes like the GLP-1 agonists,” Merrill said.
Recent evidence has shown that anti-amyloid drugs, another type of medication being investigated for Alzheimer’s disease, may be effective at combating cognitive decline, however, those drugs come with potential serious side effects, like brain bleeding and swelling.
The hope is that semaglutide could lower the risk of cognitive decline without causing serious health complications.
Research is in the early phases and it will take years to determine if the drugs effectively prevent cognitive decline.
Novo Nordisk launched two trials in 2021 that are evaluating semaglutide in people with early Alzheimer’s. Those results are expected in 2025.
Other pharmaceutical companies, including Neuraly, are testing GLP-1 drugs against Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Irina Skylar-Scott, a cognitive and behavioral neurologist at Stanford Health Care, believes it’s important to explore novel mechanisms and identify new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Given the complexity of the disease and prior unsuccessful clinical trials, we need to think outside the box to make strides for our patients,” says Skylar-Scott.
Merrill says there’s a known link between mid-life obesity and the development of later-life dementia.
When obesity is treated earlier in life, the risk for dementia can drop, too.
Skylar-Scott says the role semaglutide may play in Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia is likely independent of its role in weight loss.
GLP-1 can stimulate the release of insulin, thereby improving insulin signaling, reducing inflammation and promoting survival of brain cells, says Percy Griffin, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association director of scientific engagement.
Some studies have shown that GLP-1 may reduce amyloid and tau accumulation in the brain.
Other reports have found that GLP-1 has anti-inflammatory effects, specifically on the pancreas, liver, vascular system, kidney, lungs, testis, and skin, says Merrill.
“Given the mechanisms of action of these kinds of drugs and the biological changes associated with Alzheimer’s, it makes sense to examine if these drugs can slow down the progression of the disease,” Griffin said.
Whether treatment late in life with a drug like Wegovy or Ozempic can benefit those who already have signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease has yet to be seen, according to Merrill.
“At this time, there is not enough clinical data to support the use of these drugs in Alzheimer’s disease,” Griffin said.
Because Alzheimer’s is a complex disease linked to several changes in brain biology, it’s unlikely that any one treatment would put a full stop to the cognitive decline, says Griffin.
There’s a strong need for an arsenal of medications and modifications that target all aspects of the biological changes to defeat this devastating disease, Griffin said.
“This emphasizes the need for an arsenal of medications which target all aspects of the biological changes to defeat this devastating disease,” Griffin said.
Researchers are exploring whether semaglutide drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy could help prevent cognitive decline. The drugs work by altering the metabolic system and lowering inflammation throughout the body, which may help protect brain health. Trials exploring the semaglutide’s impact on cognition are underway and results are expected in 2025.