Sunday, 4 Jun 2023

Major study suggests beta-blockers could reduce violent crime

Could beta-blockers prevent violent crimes from happening? Major study suggests heart meds could reduce aggression

  • The drugs that treat high blood pressure may be linked to lower rates of violence
  • UK and Swedish scientists conducted the study involving 1.4 million Swedes  
  • They were associated with a 13% lower risk of being charged with a violent crime

Drugs used to treat cardiovascular issues could also be linked to a decline in violence, a new study out of Sweden suggests.

The drugs, called beta blockers, reduce blood pressure and help widen veins and arteries to improve blood flow. They can also help manage symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart rate.

Psychiatric researchers from the UK and Sweden zeroed in on the calming effect that beta blockers have, noting that people taking them were less likely to become aggressive or commit a violent crime.

The calming effects of beta blockers are so well tolerated that scientists are now finding other applications for the drugs, such as slowing the spread of breast cancer cells throughout the body.

In a new study, the researchers looked at 1.4 million beta blocker users in Sweden over an eight year span and assessed how patients behaved on and off the meds. Beta blocker treatments were associated with a 13 percent lower chance of being charged with a violent crime

Dr Seena Fazel, a psychiatric researcher at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study told Daily Beast: ‘Beta blockers act by blocking the action of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which are hormones associated with stress and one basis of the “fight-or-flight” response.’

Dr Fazel and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden looked at 1.4 million beta blocker users in Sweden over an eight year period stretching from 2006 to 2013 and assessed how patients behaved both when they were taking the drugs and when they were off them.

The study was published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine. 

Everyday anti-stress drugs can help stop spread of breast cancer


Australian researchers at Monash University found Propranolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiac disease and anxiety disorders, could decisively increase the odds of surviving breast cancer. 

ss than seven percent of patients were hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder, less than one percent presented with suicidal behavior, and were charged with a violent crime.

The scientists investigated psychiatric and behavioral outcomes – hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders, suicidal behavior and deaths from suicide, and charges of violent crime.

They concluded that beta blocker treatments were associated with a 13 percent lower chance of being charged with a violent crime as well as an 8 percent lower risk of being hospitalized due to a psychiatric disorder.

They also found a eight percent increased risk of suicidal ideation when taking beta blockers.

‘However, this was specific to individuals with a history of psychiatric hospitalisations or suicidal behaviour, and the absolute risk was low,’ the study said.

But the authors note that correlation is not equal to causation, and they cannot say for certain whether or not the beta blockers are causing the effect. The association they uncovered varied depending on psychiatric diagnosis, past psychiatric problems, as well as the severity and type of the cardiac condition the beta blockers were being used to treat.

Beta blockers are commonly used to treat anxiety. Though interestingly, a secondary analysis showed associations with hospitalization were lower for major depressive but not for anxiety disorders.

Much still has to be studied about beta blockers and their role in behavior and mental health. The research team said that, in light of their findings, more experimentation must be done into using the drugs for violence and aggression in high risk groups.

What are beta blockers? 

Beta-blockers work mainly by decreasing the activity of the heart by blocking the action of hormones like adrenaline.

They are prescription-only medicines, which means they can only be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Examples of commonly used beta-blockers include:

  • atenolol (Tenormin)
  • bisoprolol (Cardicor, Emcor)
  • carvedilol
  • metoprolol (Betaloc, Lopresor)
  • nebivolol (Nebilet)
  • propranolol (Inderal)

Beta-blockers may be used to treat angina, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart attack and high blood pressure.

They are also often used off label to treat anxiety symptoms such as racing heart rate. 

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