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Do prescription medications have secondary benefits?

Posted in General Health 24 May, 2012

Recent studies have shown that popular medications can in some cases also be beneficial in treating other health problems. These medications will usually be prescribed to treat the specific condition that initial clinical trials were based on, but "off-label prescriptions" for the treatment of secondary conditions are becoming more common.

Statin medications, used to treat high blood pressure, contraceptive pills and certain treatment for Type 2 diabetes are some of the medications which are regularly prescribed thanks to their secondary benefits. It is important to note that off-label prescriptions should only be issued by a doctor. However, if you have been prescribed any of these treatments, you may be interested in an explanation of all of the secondary benefits which apply.

High Cholesterol Medication – Statins

Benefits of Statins

High cholesterol medication, more commonly referred to simply as statins, is used in situations where cholesterol levels, the wax-like substance in the body, are too high. It works by reducing the amounts of LDL (low-density lipoprotein or "bad cholesterol") produced by the liver while promoting the levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein or "good cholesterol"). Generally high cholesterol medications are only prescribed when changes in lifestyle, such as diet or increases in activity, have failed to adequately address the problem.

Statins have been found to have a positive impact on prostate health for men, and a recent study from Duke University has suggested it may have benefits in terms of prostate cancer. In this particular trial, researchers found that men who had high levels of PSA, a protein produced by the prostate, but also took statins, had a reduced amount of prostate growth in cases of prostate cancer. Researchers were quick to indicate though that their findings, among previous results, were not substantial enough yet to be conclusive. They were, however, hopeful that future studies might establish how the medication may be beneficial in terms of prostate cancer, with the potential for the development of new treatment methods involving the common medication.

Oral Contraceptive Pills – The Pill

Benefits of Contraceptive Pills

Probably the most widely used form of birth control available, contraceptive pills are daily tablets that are taken throughout the month to protect women against falling pregnant. They release synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones that make it more difficult for sperm to fertilise an egg, thereby reducing the chances of conception. There are dozens of variations of the pill and more continue to be developed, each with their own unique benefits.

Known benefits of contraceptive pills include making menstrual cycles more regular and reducing painful symptoms associated with menstruation. Some brands of contraception may also assist with skin issues such as acne, but there is little scientific evidence to confirm this function. However, past studies have indicated that using oral birth control can reduce ovarian cysts and possibly lower the risk ovarian cancers.

Type 2 Diabetes Medication – Metformin

Benefits of Metformin

Type 2 diabetes is an increasing problem worldwide as obesity levels, a known contributor to the chronic condition, continue to grow. The condition is characterised by high levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance. Like high cholesterol, initially treatment will involve dietary changes and increasing physical activity in an attempt to lower glucose levels. If these do not resolve or help manage the condition, the medication Metformin may be prescribed.

Apart from helping diabetics manage their condition effectively, Metformin is believed to assist with weight loss, lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase fertility in women. It's highly unlikely that a doctor would prescribe medication to a non-diabetic for these any one of these conditions, but again the positive effect the treatment has could influence future medications for these secondary conditions.

While these three medications display secondary functions that range from helping manage a skin problem to reducing the risks of certain cancers, they are not designed to be a specific treatment for them. They simply have positive external benefits that have been observed and studied, in addition to the condition they were manufactured for. If you suffer from one of the secondary conditions as discussed or are concerned about developing them, it's always best to consult your doctor. They will be able to provide further information, preventative advice and, if appropriate, medication.

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