Study suggests common blood pressure and cholesterol drugs may improve mental health
New research from Sweden is raising eyebrows as it suggests that commonly prescribed drugs for cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes may also improve overall mental health in individuals living with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The discovery came from following more than 142,000 patients with serious mental illnesses. Over the course of the study, the researchers from University College London observed that patients tended to experience less mental distress while taking certain classes of medications.
Specifically, the patients were less likely to be hospitalized for mental health or attempt self-harm when taking statins to lower cholesterol, calcium channel blockers for blood pressure, or the oral diabetes drug metformin.
However, the researchers say they are far from definitively proving these medications can improve mental health. Instead, they raise questions which they believe warrant further research.
“We believe randomized, controlled trials of these medications for severe mental illness should be the next step, and a number are underway globally,” explained lead researcher Dr. Joseph Hayes.
Hayes also notes that research would be relatively easy as the drugs have already been approved and their side effects are well understood.
Past research into some of these medicines has been inconclusive, with some experts suggesting the link found in studies like the latest one published in JAMA Psychiatry are misleading. Rather, they believe the improved mental stability while taking these drugs is likely reflective that a patient is receiving better health care.
Hayes counters this argument by saying his team tried to account for these types of links. They also investigated links between other types of drugs that would be reflective of improved health care like diuretics.
As Hayes explains, if medication use is indicative of better health care, there should also be evidence that medications like diuretics also provide mental health benefits. When they explored this possibility, though, the team found no such evidence.
“So this goes against the argument that what we observe is just related to a greater period of stability,” Hayes said.
“At this stage, we are not suggesting people with these mental illnesses change their treatment,” Hayes concluded. However, it may be worth taking statins, calcium channel blockers, or metformin if individuals also have health conditions which would call for such medications.