Everyday medications implicated in bouts of hostility, violence in women
According to the British newspaper the Daily Mail, researchers in the U.S. have found that taking statins, a popular category of cholesterol drugs, can make some women violent. The July 2015 article also points out that the same researchers found that “some medicines can make you aggressive, suicidal, or even homicidal.” Among the widely-available pharmaceuticals examined along with the statins were treatments for acne, asthma, and even birth control pills.
These little-known threats were highlighted this summer when researchers found that taking statins to lower cholesterol and prevent heart problems can make some women aggressive and violent, said the Mail, reporting on a study published in authoritative science journal PLoS ONE.
“While you may be alert for signs of physical side effects when taking common prescriptions, such medicines can harbour a more insidious danger: they may make you aggressive, violently jealous, suicidal or even homicidal,” says the paper. It reports that a University of California study found the risk to be higher in post-menopausal women over 45 years old.
They also found a curious twist: The women most likely to become aggressive were normally more even-tempered than average. The study found that among men on statins, however, only three in one thousand displayed major increases in aggression, according to the professor of medicine who led the study.
Though the association between statins and aggression has been known for more than ten years, the exact cause is not yet understood. One theory, says the Mail, is that lower levels of cholesterol in the brain may be to blame, noting that other studies have shown that violent prisoners are more likely to have low levels of brain cholesterol.
Cholesterol enables brain cells to communicate, and behavior could be affected if it drops. Another issue is that “statins raise testosterone and cause sleep problems, which could tend to make people prone to irritability and aggression,” according to the paper’s interviews with researchers.
They point to studies that include a case of a 59-year-old man who had never been violent, chasing his wife and saying he was going to kill her. “Six weeks after he stopped taking statins, he was his normal, placid self,” the researchers told the Mail.
David Healy, professor of psychiatry at Bangor University and an expert in the field of dangerous side-effects co-founded Rxisk.org, a website that alerts doctors and patients to the dangers in some common drugs. The British paper reports that his study of case reports submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by doctors and patients found that, with the statin Lipitor, there had been 310 reports of aggression and violence and 62 reports of homicidal behavior. There were 309 reports of irritability, 256 reports of personality change, and 68 of paranoia.
The article asks why the dangers are so little known. “Statins will be checked to see if they lower your cholesterol, but the clinical trials generally do not look properly at whether they are causing behaviour change,” says Professor Healy. “Too often with drugs, we don’t have access to the data that is buried in the companies’ trials. Often companies dismiss reports of psychological side-effects as merely anecdotal. They don’t let the average doctor know about this and doctors don’t tend to report changes in behaviour, unless it is drastic.”
The Daily Mail also reports that statins are not the only drugs linked to strange behavioral changes. It cites a 2015 article in the Journal of Neuroscience detailing a University College London study which showed that dopamine can make people more likely to risk money in high-stakes gambles.