General Health Thursday February 25, 2016

Secondary Benefits of Prescription Medications

Many people take medicines for specific illnesses or problems that have secondary benefits. For example the Pill provides contraception, but may also lessen heavy periods and improve skin.

Let's take a look at some medications with secondary benefits.


Statins are used to reduce high cholesterol. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and comes in two types - LDL, which is low density lipoprotein and HDL, which is high density lipoprotein. HDL is the good type. Statins work to reduce LDL and clear out arteries that have become furred or blocked with cholesterol.

A secondary benefit is that statins may delay prostate cancer in men. A study from the Dana Faber Cancer Institute in Boston looked at 926 men undergoing hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Those men who were also taking statins saw their cancer stabilise for 27.5 months, compared to 17.4 months for men not taking statins. The findings are preliminary, but researchers think that statins stop testosterone entering the cancer cells. This prevents their growth, and allows hormones and treatment drugs to enter the cells instead.

There is also research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology, which suggested statins protect against dementia. Researchers took a sample of 58,000 patients from Taiwan and found high potency statins were the most effective.

The Pill

The contraceptive pill is widely available and has been used for decades to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The combined pill uses oestrogen and/or progesterone to control hormones.

Secondary benefits include period delay, as women are able to take some pills continuously to miss out a period, a reduction in menstrual pain, an improvement in skin conditions such as acne, and protection against ovarian cancer.


As global obesity levels climb, we are faced with an epidemic of illnesses such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Metformin is a treatment for Type 2 diabetes that is prescribed if food and physical activity can't control symptoms.

Secondary benefits include lowering high cholesterol, weight loss and a fertility boost in women. Metformin is not prescribed for the secondary benefits, but those with type 2 diabetes may find the effects helpful, particularly weight loss, as many people develop diabetes due to overeating and unhealthy lifestyle choices.


Viagra is used to treat erectile dysfunction in men. It's a trusted form of medication used by millions.

Viagra has a variety of secondary benefits such as: A malaria treatment. It's believed Viagra inhibits the enzyme that allows infected blood cells to circulate in the body.

  • Jet lag: by boosting the enzyme cGMP, Viagra speeds up body clock adaption.

  • Diabetes: Viagra helps control glucose levels.

  • Heart failure: Research suggests that, because Viagra increases oxygen intake and reduces pressure in the arteries, it improves heart function.

  • Stroke: The cGMP enzymes that help with jet lag may also develop brain cells.

  • Underweight babies: Because Viagra increases blood flow, it may help unborn babies grow. The enzyme PDE-5 is thought to be the important one for foetuses.

So there you have it. Medications are not always used for one purpose - some of them have added benefits that are either proven or are under trial.

If you have a condition you think might be managed by a secondary effect of a medication listed here, it's important to talk to your doctor first as there may be side effects or the medication may simply be unsuitable for you. Nevertheless it's certainly worth investigation if health improvements are possible.


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