Can a heart medication prevent violent crimes from happening?

Marcin Wisnios

Marcin Wisnios

Beta blockers slow your heart rate. Doctors prescribe them to patients dealing with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, or even to treat psychological problems such as anxiety. They are so effective at calming people down that they are even banned from some sports competitions that require steady, controlled movement, such as archery or fishing.

It now appears that the calming effects of beta-blockers may even help reduce them violence. A new study published Jan. 31 in the journal PLOS medicine found that people taking beta-blockers were less likely to become aggressive or charged with a violent crime. The authors believe this opens even more doors for the medication that can be used to treat mental problems such as aggression and violence.

“Beta-blockers work by blocking the action of epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones associated with stress that are a basis of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response,” Seena Fazel, a psychiatric researcher at the University of Oxford and co-author author of the study, told The Daily Beast in an email. She added that this could result in the body’s response to “stressful and threatening situations.”

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By stopping the effects of adrenaline, beta-blockers allow the heart to pump normally and feel calmer, slowing down the increase in physiological processes that could encourage someone else to act aggressively or violently. And other research has shown that beta-blockers can be used to cure some mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and even arachnophobia.

For the new study, the researchers looked at 1.4 million users of beta-blockers in Sweden over an eight-year period from 2006 to 2013, assessing how patients behaved when they were taking the medication and not. The authors found that beta-blocker treatments were associated with a 13 percent lower risk of being charged with a violent crime, and also associated with an 8 percent lower risk of being hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder.

Of course, these are just correlations, meaning the researchers aren’t sure if the beta-blockers are causing the effect. They note that the associations varied based on the users’ psychiatric history and their heart condition. And the researchers also found that people on beta-blockers experienced an 8 percent increase in treatment for suicidal behavior.

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However, Fazel said the beta-blockers were not the “cause of this increased suicidal risk” and that it was likely due to the negative psychological reactions the users had to physical problems such as heart problems.

However, it’s worth noting that there’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about beta blockers and their effects. There has been some research in the past suggesting a link between the use of the medication and increased suicidal thoughts. However, there isn’t enough research to establish a conclusive link.

While the authors said more research is needed on the association of beta blockers and reduced violence, if any is evidence showing that the medication works in suppressing violent tendencies, it could be used to help individuals struggling with anger and aggression manage their emotions and actions.

“We hope that the findings will lead to research with different study designs, such as randomized controlled trials of beta-blockers for violence and aggression in high-risk groups,” Fazel said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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