Heart Drug Shows Promise for COVID-19

An inexpensive heart medication can treat COVID respiratory complications, study finds
By Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family. A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net
September 21, 2021 Updated: September 28, 2021

One of the hardest things about testing positive for COVID-19 is that conventional Western medicine has offered very few treatment options to reduce the severity of the disease. Some doctors and hospitals are using monoclonal antibody treatments as an early intervention, which may help reduce hospitalizations, as reported by The Epoch Times. Other Western medical treatments for the virus—including the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin—are also being used, but remain controversial.

But now, an interesting new study from a team of scientists based in Spain is offering another potential treatment for the disease: the heart medication metoprolol. The study, published on Sept. 7 in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that a common heart medication may be an effective treatment for the severe lung complications that are a major cause of death in severe SARS-CoV-2 cases.

Cardiologists at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research ran the controlled study on 20 patients in the Jiménez Díaz University Hospital in Madrid.

Twelve patients were randomly selected to receive treatment with metoprolol, with eight patients being in the control group. The small study not only showed benefits for the patients treated with metoprolol, but also proposed a mechanism for why and how it may help mitigate severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.

What Is Metoprolol?

Metoprolol is a widely prescribed, inexpensive Federal Drug Administration-approved drug used in the treatment of various heart conditions. It’s prescribed mainly to treat high blood pressure, as well as illnesses such as acute myocarditis, which can cause irregular heart rhythms. It’s also used to lessen chest pain.

Metoprolol is a beta-blocker, which acts to keep adrenaline from increasing your heart rate. It acts on beta receptors in your heart and in your blood vessels, which in turn helps lower a fast heart rate and decrease the heart’s need for oxygen. Some musicians and other performers who don’t have diagnosed heart problems will use metoprolol to keep from getting on-stage jitters.

Lung Damage From the Cytokine Storm

In severe complications from COVID-19 infections, the lungs can be damaged. This lung damage occurs when the virus attacks the lung tissue and the blood vessels that permeate the lining of the lungs, causing the body’s immune system to respond with a storm of small signaling proteins known as cytokines. The lungs are made up of branching airways that end in many tiny sacs lined with fine blood vessels. The virus can damage the lung tissue, causing those blood vessels to begin leaking fluid into the lungs, interfering with the exchange of gases over the surface of the lungs.

The reaction can be intense enough to cause severe inflammation, resulting in acute respiratory distress syndrome. As with many different COVID-19 complications, scientists believe that it isn’t the direct action of the virus that causes the more serious problem, but the body’s confused overreaction to the unfamiliar infection.

That’s where the drug metoprolol may be able to help, according to the study.

The human immune system is made up of several different kinds of cells. Neutrophils are one such type that can cause problems in the lungs of severe COVID-19 patients. Neutrophils play a crucial role in clearing pathogenic bacteria. They also have specific mechanisms to combat harmful viruses. They congregate in the inflamed lungs and release extracellular nets to trap virus particles. While that strategy may help fight the infection, scientists suspect that the overproduction of neutrophil extracellular traps, or NETS, may end up doing more damage than the virus had done in the first place.

Intubated Patients Seem to Benefit From Metoprolol

All 20 patients in the study were already on ventilators to treat acute respiratory distress. Twelve were given a moderate amount of intravenous metoprolol (15 milligrams daily for three days), while the eight patients in the control group weren’t.

Patients given metoprolol in the study had 96 percent fewer neutrophils in their lungs, leading to reduced inflammation and improved oxygen uptake. The number of cytokine-triggered immune cells was also reduced, lessening the severity of the cytokine storm. The beta-blocker also seemed to help reduce fluid accumulation in the lungs.

As a result, patients given metoprolol were able to be taken off the ventilators sooner and released from intensive care earlier than patients in the control group.

“Intravenous metoprolol administration to patients with COVID-19–associated ARDS [acute respiratory distress syndrome] was safe, reduced exacerbated lung inflammation, and improved oxygenation,” the researchers wrote. “Repurposing metoprolol for COVID-19–associated ARDS appears to be a safe and inexpensive strategy that can alleviate the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Medical Doctors Respond

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist in private practice in New York and the author of “Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart Healthy Life,” found the Spanish study to be promising.

“In light of the devastation that COVID can create, effective treatment strategies are essential,” Steinbaum said. “Metoprolol was shown to decrease inflammation and improve oxygenation in patients suffering from acute respiratory distress. It’s important for us to further evaluate this medication as a safe and potential life-saving option for treatment of COVID patients.” 

Dr. Jeffrey I. Barke, a board-certified primary care physician based in Orange County, California, agreed.

“It’s a great study. It’s a small study, but it shows great promise.”

Like Steinbaum, Barke noted that metoprolol is an inexpensive medication with a good track record of safety.

“It would be hard to harm someone with this,” Barke said. “It is great to see creative thinkers in the scientific community using medications off-label. This study shows potential real benefits from a very safe and inexpensive medicine.”

However, Barke cautioned that he’s concerned that there may be a lack of motivation among U.S. public health officials and conventional medical doctors to follow up with a larger study to find out if metoprolol is an effective treatment option.

“This reminds me of the benefits of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine,” Barke said. “I hope this medication, like many of the other repurposed drugs used to treat COVID, isn’t viewed through a political lens. Otherwise, docs will be hesitant to use it.”

Barke is disturbed by the lack of political will to explore effective treatment options. He believes that large pharmaceutical companies that have invested in vaccine technology are exerting an undue influence on government officials.

“These vaccine companies are making bank on these products and doing so without any liability,” Barke said. “If we were successful in treating COVID early with simple medications, there would be much less need to push vaccines.”

If the study’s findings are correct and metoprolol—an inexpensive and effective beta-blocker—really does reduce the cytokine storm to more of a drizzle, that may be bad news for the pharmaceutical industry, but good news for everyone else.

Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family. A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net