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Monday, September 30, 2013

Surprising Good Side Effects of Your Meds

Here are eight types of drugs that offer unique health perks. 

The Drug: Flu shot

Potential Perk: Heart disease and stroke protection
The Evidence: A new review of research finds that getting a flu shot could cut your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 48 percent. Study coauthor Jacob A. Udell, M.D., of Women's College Hospital in Toronto speculates that getting vaccinated "may block the inflammatory response our bodies mount to combat a flu infection, which protects arterial plaques from rupturing and causing a cardiac event." So after the doozy of a flu season we just had, consider this one more reason to line up next year. 

The Drugs: Statins to lower cholesterol

Potential Perk: More successful cancer treatment
The Evidence: People diagnosed with cancer who were taking statins daily had a 15 percent lower risk of death compared with non–statin users, according to a 2012 Danish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Quite simply, statins reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body, and since the waxy substance is a vital building block for cells, "a shortage of cholesterol may inhibit growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells," says study coauthor Stig E. Bojesen, M.D., of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. One-quarter of people 45 or older pop cholesterol-lowering statins.

The Drug: Metformin to treat diabetes

Potential Perk: Avoiding breast cancer
The Evidence: Metformin helps combat diabetes by increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing the liver's production of glucose, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. A 2012 review of seven studies published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment showed that metformin is also linked with a 17 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
Women taking metformin for at least three years had a 25 percent lower risk, possibly due to their improved insulin response. Researchers speculate that higher insulin levels may fuel cancer cells. Metformin also is associated with weight loss, so weight management could play a role, too.

The Drugs: Beta-blockers to lower blood pressure

Potential Perk: Reduced risk of dementia
The Evidence: Because hypertension impairs blood flow to the brain, it's one risk factor for developing vascular dementia. In new research from Lon White, M.D., of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, men with hypertension who took beta-blockers had about 50 percent fewer vascular brain lesions and up to 40 percent fewer Alzheimer's disease lesions, compared with those who had high blood pressure but weren't being treated. Although results are preliminary, White suggests that since beta-blockers lower pulse rates and enhance blood flow, they may also reduce excess strain on blood vessels in the brain.

The Drugs: Levodopa and other dopamine agonists for Parkinson's disease
Potential Perk: A surge in creativity
The Evidence: For Parkinson's patients, tremors, loss of fine motor skills and muscle stiffness can make artistic activities that require dexterity more challenging. All the more surprising, then, that some patients develop new and impressive creative abilities, including painting and writing, during treatment, according to Rivka Inzelberg, M.D., a professor in the department of neurology at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Published this year in Behavioral Neuroscience, Inzelberg's review identifies two underlying factors — levodopa and dopamine agonists, often used together in PD treatment to improve motor control. Both increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that may be involved in brain pathways that "awaken" creativity.

The Drug: Adalimumab (Humira) to treat psoriasis

Potential Perk: Relief for depression
The Evidence: Characterized by red, irritated and scaly skin, psoriasis is often accompanied by depression. Research indicates that sufferers are nearly 40 percent more likely to have depresion than are people without the condition. That makes recent findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology even more important: Patients with moderate to severe psoriasis taking 40 milligrams of adalimumab every other week for 12 weeks improved their score on a depression test by six points, compared with the group given a placebo. (Scores decreased from 42.9 to 36.2, on average; 50 or higher indicates depression.)
Dermatologist and study coauthor Alan Menter, M.D., says that adalimumab reduces TNF-alpha, a chemical that causes psoriasis symptoms and is sometimes elevated in people with depression.

The Drugs: Beta-blockers to lower blood pressure

Potential Perk: Reduced risk of dementia
The Evidence: Because hypertension impairs blood flow to the brain, it's one risk factor for developing vascular dementia. In new research from Lon White, M.D., of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, men with hypertension who took beta-blockers had about 50 percent fewer vascular brain lesions and up to 40 percent fewer Alzheimer's disease lesions, compared with those who had high blood pressure but weren't being treated. Although results are preliminary, White suggests that since beta-blockers lower pulse rates and enhance blood flow, they may also reduce excess strain on blood vessels in the brain.

The Drugs: Levodopa and other dopamine agonists for Parkinson's disease
Potential Perk: A surge in creativity
The Evidence: For Parkinson's patients, tremors, loss of fine motor skills and muscle stiffness can make artistic activities that require dexterity more challenging. All the more surprising, then, that some patients develop new and impressive creative abilities, including painting and writing, during treatment, according to Rivka Inzelberg, M.D., a professor in the department of neurology at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Published this year in Behavioral Neuroscience, Inzelberg's review identifies two underlying factors — levodopa and dopamine agonists, often used together in PD treatment to improve motor control. Both increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that may be involved in brain pathways that "awaken" creativity.

The Drug: Adalimumab (Humira) to treat psoriasis

Potential Perk: Relief for depression
The Evidence: Characterized by red, irritated and scaly skin, psoriasis is often accompanied by depression. Research indicates that sufferers are nearly 40 percent more likely to have depresion than are people without the condition. That makes recent findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology even more important: Patients with moderate to severe psoriasis taking 40 milligrams of adalimumab every other week for 12 weeks improved their score on a depression test by six points, compared with the group given a placebo. (Scores decreased from 42.9 to 36.2, on average; 50 or higher indicates depression.)
Dermatologist and study coauthor Alan Menter, M.D., says that adalimumab reduces TNF-alpha, a chemical that causes psoriasis symptoms and is sometimes elevated in people with depression.

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