A new study in Sweden has found that drugs used to treat heart disease can also reduce violence.
Medicines called beta-blockers lower blood pressure and help widen veins and arteries to improve blood flow. It can also help manage anxiety symptoms such as heart palpitations.
Psychiatric researchers from the UK and Sweden focused on the calming effect of beta-blockers, noting that people who took them were less likely to become violent or commit violent crimes. The calming effects of beta-blockers are so well tolerated that scientists are now finding other uses for the drugs, such as slowing the spread of breast cancer cells throughout the body.
“Beta-blockers work by blocking the action of adrenaline and noradrenaline, two hormones associated with stress and one of the causes of fight or flight,” says Dr. Sina Fadel, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study. .
Dr. Fadel and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden studied 1.4 million beta-blocker users in Sweden over an eight-year period from 2006 to 2013, assessing the behavior of patients when they took the drugs and when they stopped taking them.
More than seven percent of patients were hospitalized with a mental disorder, and less than one percent had suicidal behavior and were charged with violent crimes.
The researchers investigated the psychological and behavioral consequences of hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders, suicidal behavior and suicide, as well as allegations of violent crimes.
They concluded that beta-blocker treatment was associated with a 13% reduction in the likelihood of being charged with a violent crime, as well as an 8% reduction in the risk of hospitalization for a psychiatric disorder.
They also found an eight percent increase in the risk of suicidal thoughts when taking beta-blockers.
“However, this was common in people with psychotherapy or a history of suicidal behavior, and the absolute risk was low,” the study says.
But the researchers note that correlation does not equal causation, and they cannot say for sure whether beta-blockers cause an effect. The relationship they found varied depending on the psychiatric diagnosis and previous psychiatric problems, as well as the severity and type of heart disease for which beta-blockers were being treated.
Beta blockers are commonly used to treat anxiety. And, interestingly, a secondary analysis found that the association with hospitalization was lower for major depression, but not for anxiety disorders.
There is still much to be learned about beta-blockers and their role in behavior and mental health.
The research team said that in light of their findings, more trials of drug use for violence and aggression in high-risk groups should be conducted.
The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Source: Daily Mail