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Commonly used heart and diabetes drugs may improve mental health, study finds

Published on 10/01/19 at 10:09am

Commonly used anti-cholesterol drugs, blood pressure drugs and medicines used for diabetes may improve the mental health of those with severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar and schizophrenia, a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL), found that patients who took the cheap and widely used drugs were admitted into hospital on as many as a fifth fewer occasions, in comparison to when they were not taking the drugs.

In conducting the research, the team analysed the life-long medical records of 142,691 people in Sweden who had schizophrenia, bipolar, or other severe mental health conditions. The study compared patients at different stages of their life when they were either taking the drugs or not.  

Dr Joseph Hayes, one of the researchers at UCL, commented: “The paper suggests a 10-20% reduction in the number of episodes when on the medications rather than off.”

The study also showed that there was a reduction in instances of self-harm when patients were taking the heart and diabetes drugs.

The researchers focused on anti-cholesterol drugs which may calm inflammation linked to mental health or assist the body in absorbing anti-psychotic medicines, blood pressure drugs which may alter calcium signalling in the brain which has been linked to bipolar and schizophrenia, and the type 2 diabetes drug metformin which may alter mood.

Dr Hayes now believes that the drugs should be tested in clinical trials. However, others remain sceptical in suggesting that the connection might be a red herring.

Professor Naveed Sattar, from University of Glasgow, commented: “I would be strongly cautious with these findings and would only change my mind if effects are proven to be robust in a randomised trial.”  

Louis Goss

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