Researchers at the University College London, United Kingdom, have said that cheap and widely used drugs for diabetes and heart health have a potential for treating severe mental illness.
The researchers noted that their findings have ‘enormous potential’ as it showed the number of times patients needed hospital treatment fell by up to a fifth when they took the drugs.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the starting point for the researchers was a list of currently prescribed medications that science predicts could also help patients with severe mental health disorders.
The team focused on anti-cholesterol drugs called statins which may calm inflammation linked to mental health problems or help the body absorb anti-psychotic medications.
Blood pressure drugs, which may alter the calcium signaling in the brain that has been linked to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was also part of the focus alongside the anti-Type 2 Diabetes drug, metformin.
Instead of testing them in trials, the scientists went in search of evidence in the real world as they analysed life-long medical records of 142,691 people in Sweden, who had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other severe mental illnesses.
They then compared the number of times each was admitted to a psychiatric hospital clinic when they were taking those medications and when they were not.
One of the researchers at University College London, Dr Joseph Hayes, said the paper suggested a 10-20 per cent reduction in the number of episodes when placed on the medications.
The result, which was published in the journal, JAMA Psychiatry, also showed a reduction in self-harm.
Hayes said, “It is incredibly exciting. It has got enormous potential and I’m pleased with the way it has turned out. But this is really just a starting point.”
Another study author from the Institute of Psychiatry at the King’s College London, Dr James MacCabe, said, “These findings are very compelling and strongly suggest a potential role for repurposing these drugs to improve mental health outcomes.
But there is one nagging doubt, even from the researchers, around the way the study was designed. A lot of studies compare one group of patients taking a drug with another group not taking it. This one compared patients at different stages of their life when they were either on the drug or not.
“The approach has many advantages but it could mean that when people are in a good place mentally and less likely to be admitted to the hospital, they are also more likely to look after themselves and take other medications,” MacCabe said.