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Viagra gets an image make-over as successive studies claim it helps with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Viagra gets an image make-over as successive studies claim it helps with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

If there’s one thing most of us love, it’s the whole “buy one, get one free” schtick. What if we told you that you could potentially improve your sex life and reduce your risk of getting dementia — both of which are health conditions plaguing a large sect of modern society — at the price of one little magical blue pill? Ladies but mostly gentlemen, we present to you the supremely popular Viagra.
A brief history of the wonder drug
Believe it or not, sildenafil citrate, patented under the name Viagra by US drug giant Pfizer, never intended to become the sex symbol that it is today. It was created in the late 80s for a more innocent reason: to treat high blood pressure and chest pains triggered by heart disease.

However, when researchers were conducting clinical trials for the drug, they quickly realised that this drug was a lot better at inducing erections than anything else they were trying to achieve with it at the time (one can only imagine the confusion among the participants and researchers at the trial lab centre that day).

Pfizer, whose COVID-19 vaccine was the first to receive emergency validation from WHO, quickly figured out that they could repackage this magic pill as an answer to the big problem of erectile dysfunction. Towards the end of the 20th century, the FDA-approved Viagra was all set to hit the markets.

The drug was a huge success and even had the promiscuous Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner singing its praises. Whether they would like to admit it or not, lots of people worldwide began to consume Viagra, and the drug became quite popular even in India.

With Pfizer having lost its patent in some parts of the world over the drug around that time, copies of the drug were being sold under various aliases available at a tenth of the original’s cost. Between 2010 and 2018, Viagra sales in India had shot up by 40% as per the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists.

While it is great that the sense of shame attached to erectile dysfunction has somewhat dipped amongst Indian men, doctors have had mixed reviews about the drug’s prolonged usage. The drug’s side-effects can kick in rather prominently in those suffering from other comorbidities, after all. However, there’s also a good chance that a lot of men might’ve inadvertantly reduced their chances of losing their memories to dementia and other neurological conditions.
Viagra use has been linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia in menEarlier this year, researchers at University College London published their findings on nearly 270,000 men who were all 40 or older and had been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction between the years 2000 and 2017.

They found that men who had been prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs like sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis) had an 18% lesser chance of developing Alzheimer’s later on in life compared to men who hadn’t been given the drug in question. This link was even stronger among those who had been issued the most prescriptions — a whopping 44% lower.

More recently, new trials conducted by the University of Oxford revealed that sildenafil didn’t just increase blood flow to the penis, but also to the brain, improving the function of brain blood vessels in patients at a heightened risk of vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia can impact cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning and judgement due to reduced blood supply to the brain, which damages brain tissue. In vascular dementia, obstructions in blood vessels usually lead to brain cell damage. This condition is different from Alzheimer's, where cognitive dysfunction is caused by amyloid beta plaques blocking neuron connectivity.

According to Dr Alastair Webb, Associate Professor at the Wolfson Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia at Oxford University, this is the first trial that shows sildenafil gets into the blood vessels in the brain in people with this condition, improving blood flow and how responsive these blood vessels are.

“This demonstrates the potential of this well-tolerated, widely-available drug to prevent dementia, which needs testing in larger trials,” he says.

Scientists agree this is a promising area of study. But more evidence is needed to understand how the drugs affect the brain and figure out the optimal dosage. More importantly, scientists also want to see if the benefits extend to women.

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