Sinister paracetamol and other tablets: how do popular medications affect our lives

The action of some drugs is associated with aggressive behavior on the road, with pathological gambling, with intricate cases of fraud. Some of them make us less neurotic, others can even affect our relationships with people. About it writes BBC.

Зловещий парацетамол и другие таблетки: как популярные лекарства влияют на нашу жизнь

Photo: Depositphotos

It turns out that many common drugs affect not only our body, but also how our brain works. How is it and why is it not warning cautionary labels on the packaging?

“Patient No 5” was well over 50 when access to a doctor changed his life.

He had diabetes, and he gave consent to participate in the study, which the authors wanted to understand, does it help statins — medication that lowers the level of cholesterol.

At first everything went fine. But soon after the start of treatment, his wife began to notice an ominous change.

Previously quite a sensible man, he began to experience bouts of anger, and, inexplicably, began to behave aggressively behind the wheel.

Once he even told family members to stay away from him if you don’t want to get to the hospital.

Fearing that something terrible, “patient No 5” has stopped driving. But his behavior in the car as a passenger was that his wife was forced halfway and turn back home.

In such cases, it put him one in front of the TV to keep him quiet. And she started to fear for their own safety.

And then one day the “patient No 5” dawned on me. “Before it suddenly realized: so after all these problems started after I began to participate in the study,” says Beatrice with a Goal, steering a team of scientists at the University of California (San Diego).

Alarmed, the husband and wife addressed for explanations to the organizers of the study. “Those behave very hostile. They stated that this may not be related to the medication, men should continue taking it and to remain one of the study participants,” says Bare.

For better or for worse there, but by the time the patient is so changed towards grumpiness, he just ignored the doctors ‘ advice. Two weeks later, his old personality returned to him.

But others were not so lucky. Over the years, Covering collects the stories of patients from across the United States — about broken marriages, destroyed careers, about the surprisingly large number of men who were on the verge of killing his own wife.

And almost in each of these cases, alarming symptoms have appeared once people started to take statins. And then disappear as soon as they quit drinking this medicine. One man even threw five times and started over again, until I realized that it was the statins — the reason that happens to him.

According to the Covering all this is quite typical: in her experience, most patients may not be aware of changes taking place in their character, not to mention the fact, to associate them with the drug that began to take.

In some cases, this understanding comes too late: with the researcher contacted many relatives of these people, including the scientist of international fame and former editor of legal publications, committed suicide.

We know that psychedelic drugs distort consciousness. But, it turns out, quite a regular medication is also capable of this.

From paracetamol to histamine drugs, from antidepressants to statins, and drugs for asthma, they show how new research can make us too impulsive, hot-tempered and restless.

They can reduce the level of empathy for strangers, and even to manipulate fundamental aspects of our character, our personality — for example, how neurotic we are.

Most people these changes are hardly noticeable. But for some they can be significant.

In 2011, one a Frenchman, the father of two children, has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, claiming the drug he took for Parkinson’s disease, turned him into a gambler and a passionate lover of gay sex, and that is the cause of his risky behavior that led to the fact that he was raped.

In 2015, the man chasing the Internet of young girls resorted to a similar line of defense: he argued that the cure for obesity have reduced his ability to control his impulses and desires.

Again and again we are confronted with the fact that murderers try to present a reason that they have committed, sedatives or antidepressants.

If these statements contains the truth, the consequences can be serious. The list of potential culprits includes some of the most widely used in the world of medicines. That means: even if the level of the individual effect of these drugs is insignificant, however, they change the identity of millions of people.

Studies of this effect — as it is impossible by the way. Our world is immersed in a crisis of excessive medication. In the US alone each year is bought up to 49 thousand tons of paracetamol (about 298 paracetamol tablets per person), and the average American consume in a year number of prescriptions for $1 200.

As soon as the population of our planet is increasingly aging, our fascination with medication is more and more out of control. For example, right now in the UK one out of every ten elderly people over 65 weekly taking eight different medications.

As all these drugs affect our brain? And isn’t it time to start to put on the packaging warning labels?

The bare thought at first that the link between taking statins and changes in nature could be identified a couple of decades ago, after a series of frightening discoveries that indicate that people with low cholesterol are more likely to die a violent death.

But one day in casual conversation with an expert on cholesterol of such potential when he dismissed her arguments as self-evident nonsense.

“And then I said to myself: how do we know that?” says Goal. She began carefully to examine the scientific and medical literature on the subject. “I found a lot of evidence — more than I could imagine,” she says.

To begin with, there are studies of primates, which translated into a low cholesterol diet and they become more aggressive.

Described even a potential mechanism for this: lowering cholesterol in animals, apparently, affects the level of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, “mood hormone” involved in the regulation of behavior.

Even fruit flies start to fight, if you change the level of serotonin. And people it is not the best way — research associate this with a tendency to violence, impulsiveness, suicide and murder.

If statins affect the human brain, then it is probably a direct consequence of their ability to lower cholesterol.

In recent years there are many new evidence for this. The results of several studies have supported the hypothesis of potential links between irritability and statins — including in the course of Covering (with the participation of more than 1000 people) randomized controlled trials (RCTS), considered the gold standard of obtaining scientific data on new medical interventions.

Goal RCTS showed that the drug increases aggression in women during post-menopausal period, but, strangely, does not affect the behavior of men.

In 2018 one of the studies found a similar effect of fish — it seems that the mechanism linking cholesterol and aggression, has existed for millions of years.

Goal continues to remain in the belief that lower cholesterol and, as a consequence, statins may cause changes in the behavior of both women and men, but the depth of influence could vary greatly from person to person.

But the most unpleasant discovery, which was made a Goal, is not the possible effects of conventional drugs on our personality. This General lack of interest in such effects.

“The emphasis is on the fact that doctors can easily check,” she explains. According to her, during the long research time side effects of statins focused on the muscles and liver, because any problems with these organs can be detected using standard blood tests.

A researcher from Ohio state University Dominic Miskowski also noticed this. “We know a lot about the physiological effects of drugs,” he says, ” but we do not understand how they affect human behavior.”

Own research of Myskovskogo found a sinister side effects from paracetamol. Scientists have long known that this drug lessens pain by reducing activity in some brain areas such as the islet, which plays an important role in our emotions.

These areas take part in creating a sense of interpersonal and social problems, and paracetamol can be an amazing way to ease our psychological pain, for example, if we have rejected.

Recent studies have shown another interesting thing: in our brain pain centers — both centers of empathy, empathy to the emotional state of another person.

For example, scanning using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) have shown that when pain and in so-called positive empathy (joy for another person) in the brain become active the same areas.

Based on this finding, Miskovsky thought, not weaken, whether pain killers our ability to sympathize with others?

Together with colleagues from the Ohio, he gained volunteers from University students and divided into two groups. One group was given a standard dose of paracetamol (1000 mg) and placebo.

Then they were asked to read different inspirational stories from the lives of others — for example, about the luck of a certain Alex who finally plucked up the courage and asked a girl out on a date (and she agreed).

The results showed that paracetamol significantly reduces our ability to be happy for others to think about now, as this medication may daily affect the attitudes of millions of people around the world.

“I’m not a novice researcher, says Miskovsky, and, frankly, the results of these experiments — the most disturbing I’ve encountered. Especially because I have a good idea of what a huge number of people subjected to such pressures. When you give someone a drug, you give it not just a individual person you give it to the public. And we totally understand the impact of these drugs in the wider context”.

Empathy determines not only what you are a good person, or that you cry when watching a sad movie.

This emotion has many practical advantages, among them being a more stable relationship with your loved one, more adapted to living children, the more successful career.

Some scientists have even suggested that empathy is the reason for the success of the human species.

All this inevitably makes one wonder what the consequences for humanity will have a reduced ability to experience empathy.

Formally, the paracetamol, does not change our character, because the effect of his appointment is preserved for only a few hours and few of us accept it permanently.

But, as stressed by Miskovsky, we should be informed about how it affect us that will help us to make sound decisions about its use.

“Just as we know that we should not drive when they drink, we should not take paracetamol, if we are to be in a situation where we need an emotional response — for example, serious conversation with your partner or colleague.”

One of the reasons why drugs have such a psychological effect, is that our body is not just a bag with different bodies, washed by body fluids and chemical compounds. It is a system in which different processes are interconnected.

For example, scientists were already aware that medications from asthma sometimes affects the behavior of patients and sometimes leads to the development of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. And recently, one study found that there is a mysterious connection between these two diseases: having one of them, you increase the risk of Contracting others to 45-53%.

No one knows why. Any idea what asthma cause attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, since the change serotonin levels or chemicals that cause inflammation.

Sometimes the connection is easy to follow. In 2009, a team of psychologists from northwestern University (Illinois) decided to test whether antidepressants effect on our character.

In particular, the scientists were particularly interested in neuroticism, one of the traits, manifested in anxiety, fear, jealousy, envy, and guilt.

For their study, researchers recruited a group of adults with moderate to deep depression. One third of participants received the antidepressant paroxetine (a selective inhibitor of serotonin reuptake), another third placebo, and one third for psychological therapy.

Then the researchers tested how changing the mood and character of the volunteers from beginning to end 16-week experiment.

“We found that the drug caused a significant change in neuroticism. Placebo and therapy had almost no effect on this trait, says Robert Derubeis, one of the researchers. — That was amazing”.

The big surprise for the scientists was the fact that although antidepressants and made participants less depressed, decrease the level of neuroticism was much more serious, and the effect of drugs on the level of depression was not associated with impact on the level of neuroticism. In addition, those who received antidepressants in the polls began to score more points on a scale of extrovertness.

It is important, however, to understand that it was a relatively small study, and yet no one tried to repeat his results, so that they can be not completely reliable. But intriguing is the fact that antidepressants can directly affect neuroticism.

According to one hypothesis, this personality trait (neuroticism) is associated with the level of serotonin in the brain, which changes under the influence of antidepressants.

And though become less neurotic sounds appealing, all is not well with this news.

This aspect of our personality is a double — edged sword. Yes, the neurotic brings us a lot of unpleasant moments in life, not to mention the fact that it can become the cause of more early deaths.

But at the same time, it is believed that excessive anxiety and tendency to worry all the time can serve us well in some situations — for example, to avoid unnecessary risk. Or even improve work efficiency.

“Even the American psychiatrist Peter Kramer warned us: when people are on antidepressants, they can start to worry less about those things about which they worry,” — emphasizes Derubeis. If so, should we warn patients that the drugs can change their personality?

“If I have asked advice my friend, I would definitely have warned him as well as warn of these well-known side effects from the medication, such as possible weight gain,” says Derubeis.

And here it is necessary to stress that no one is calling for people to quit drinking on your medication.

Despite subtle effects on the brain, antidepressants are not helped to save man from committing suicide, cholesterol lowering drugs annually save tens of thousands of lives, and paracetamol is on the list of essential medicines the UN because of its ability to relieve pain.

But it is also important to keep people informed of any potential adverse psychological effects.

This issue looks much more serious if we take into account the fact that some changes in character can be quite radical.

There is confirmed evidence that the drug L-DOPA (levodopa), which is prescribed for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, increases the risk of impulsive personality disorder. (The person with the disorder impulse control is often not able to withstand the sudden, violent urge to do something that may violate the rights of others or cause conflict with social norms. — Approx. interpreter.)

Therefore, this drug can have devastating effects on the lives of some patients, suddenly novice unnecessarily to risk in everything they can experience a pathological attraction to gambling, drinking or shopping to become sexaholics.

In 2009, media reported about a drug with similar qualities, after a man with Parkinson’s has accused the drug that completely changed his character and even became the reason for committing fraud — he sold the tickets on eBay to a non-existent rock concerts, raising thus $60 000.

Association of this medication with impulsive behavior can be understood, because it supplies the brain with additional of dopamine (important in Parkinson’s disease). This hormone takes part in creating the sensations of pleasure and reward.

Experts agree that l — DOPA is the most effective means for the treatment of many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Every year it is prescribed to thousands of people across the United States — despite the long list of possible side effects. This list also refers to the risk of unusually strong desires — for example, to play in the casino or having sex.

And Derubeis, and the Covering and Miskowski of the opinion that the medicines which they have studied, will be used by people and further, regardless of adverse psychological effects.

“We the people, says Miskovsky. — We do accept a lot of things that are not necessarily useful in different circumstances. I always cite the example of alcohol, which may be analgesic, such as paracetamol”.

But in order to minimize any unintended consequences and to maximise the opportunities for startling amount of medicine we take every day, we need to know more about them, emphasizes Miskovsky.

Because at the moment, he says, remains largely a mystery exactly how they affect individuals and society as a whole.