A new study by University of Pennsylvania and Stanford researchers highlights a possible link between men who receive androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) and the future onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Records of 2,400 prostate cancer patients receiving ADT were compared to a group of prostate cancer patients not receiving ADT, and results revealed that members of the ADT group were 88% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the follow-up period. Further findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology

The androgen hormone stimulates growth of the prostate cell and ADT is used to inhibit this growth but in doing so, studies have revealed it can create some adverse side effects. These include impotence, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. Men with Alzheimer’s have also been shown to have lower androgen (and chiefly low testosterone) levels compared to other men of the same age who do not have Alzheimer’s. 

This is the first study to look into the possible association between ADT and Alzheimer’s. Although studies on mice and humans have shown that low testosterone levels can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia, the precise reason for this remains unknown. Testosterone is generally protective of brain cells, so it’s possible that any diminishing effects to testosterone could leave cells more open to risk, reported study authors.

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It’s estimated that half a million men are taking ADT at any given time in the U.S. “Based on the results of our study, an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease is a potential adverse effect of ADT,” said lead author Kevin T. Nead, MD, MPhil, from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He added, “Further research is needed before considering changes to clinical practice.” Dr. Nead and colleagues are hoping to address that by examining the association in a larger cancer registry data set.

This article originally appeared on MPR