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Surprising Good Side Effects of Your Meds

New research finds some common drugs can help prevent cancer, improve heart health and even enhance creativity

The Drugs: Beta-blockers to lower blood pressure

Potential Perk: Reduced risk of dementia

The Evidence: Because hypertension impairs blood flow to the brain, it's one risk factor for developing vascular dementia. In new research from Lon White, M.D., of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, men with hypertension who took beta-blockers had about 50 percent fewer vascular brain lesions and up to 40 percent fewer Alzheimer's disease lesions, compared with those who had high blood pressure but weren't being treated. Although results are preliminary, White suggests that since beta-blockers lower pulse rates and enhance blood flow, they may also reduce excess strain on blood vessels in the brain.

The Drugs: Levodopa and other dopamine agonists for Parkinson's disease

Potential Perk: A surge in creativity

The Evidence: For Parkinson's patients, tremors, loss of fine motor skills and muscle stiffness can make artistic activities that require dexterity more challenging. All the more surprising, then, that some patients develop new and impressive creative abilities, including painting and writing, during treatment, according to Rivka Inzelberg, M.D., a professor in the department of neurology at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Published this year in Behavioral Neuroscience, Inzelberg's review identifies two underlying factors — levodopa and dopamine agonists, often used together in PD treatment to improve motor control. Both increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that may be involved in brain pathways that "awaken" creativity.

The Drug: Adalimumab (Humira) to treat psoriasis

Potential Perk: Relief for depression

The Evidence: Characterized by red, irritated and scaly skin, psoriasis is often accompanied by depression. Research indicates that sufferers are nearly 40 percent more likely to have depresion than are people without the condition. That makes recent findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology even more important: Patients with moderate to severe psoriasis taking 40 milligrams of adalimumab every other week for 12 weeks improved their score on a depression test by six points, compared with the group given a placebo. (Scores decreased from 42.9 to 36.2, on average; 50 or higher indicates depression.)

Dermatologist and study coauthor Alan Menter, M.D., says that adalimumab reduces TNF-alpha, a chemical that causes psoriasis symptoms and is sometimes elevated in people with depression.

Next page: Aspirin and Paxil. »

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