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Viagra - a Preventative Measure to Alzheimer's Disease?

Megan Hayes | News Editor

Adobe Stock / 2024


We all know Alzheimer's disease is a beast. The disease - coined in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist - is a progressively worsening, neurodegenerative disease that has no known cure. However, a recent study published in the journal Neurology by University College London's School of Pharmacy shows that there may be a much more interesting way to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease - and it starts with the the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.


On the basics of Alzheimer's disease - symptoms include worsening memory, trouble with thinking and reasoning, harm to cognitive functioning (planning, judgements & decisions), and changes in personality or typical behavior. Associated signs of this condition are paranoia, aggression, delusions, and forgetfulness towards daily tasks - like showering, eating or drinking - which can eventually lead to death. Alzheimer's is one of the main causes of dementia (leading to 60-80% of cases) - another "umbrella term" for less specific diseases that cause the same range of symptoms (Alzheimer's Association). The causes for these conditions are still being debated - but the general consensus among scientists and neuropsychologists are tangles (fiber tangles in nerve cells in the brain - cause confusion), plaques (clusters of nerve endings that are degenerating), as well as reduced production of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals) needed to communicate between the brain and nervous system (Hopkins Medicine).

This disease, alongside dementia, has swept through our world causing heartbreak, as our loved ones lose their memory. Confusion, pain and troubles come with all who are affected and around those who struggle with this condition - many unsure of what the next step is to take as there is no known cure. Now, with this new information coming out (published February 8th of 2024), there are whispers within the field of medicine to think about a change of their approach to preventing neurological diseases. In the study of almost 270,000 men, where around half were taking inhibitor drugs (like Viagra and Cialis) found that those prescribed these drugs for erectile dysfunction were around 18% less likely to develop Alzheimer's in the following years.


Originally, drugs like Viagra (Sildenafil) were developed and prescribed to treat conditions like high blood pressure and angina pectoris, a form of cardiovascular disease. These drugs are effective because they are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, making it an effective messenger to both the body and the brain. After marketing and selling this drug to many starting in 1996, it was found by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that it did nothing to prevent angina... yet could induce penile erections relatively quickly, giving it a whole new market and demand (UCL, Genetic Literacy Project). Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shortly after in 1998, it became widely advertised and used for men struggling with impotency.


Although this study was not designed to find causation, or even answers, it has presented a new world of possibilities for prevention, and maybe someday even treatment of this disease. Of course, as all psychological and scientific studies go, correlation does not equal causation, and there is much research to be done. An ideal study to determine the effects of this medication, especially to see if it works in women as well, would include a large number of participants so that cause and effect can hopefully be clearly outlined and determined. the potential side effects must also be outlined before this medication is looked to for help, as the long-term side effects of Viagra are still relatively unknown. Hopefully this new information can revolutionize the way we treat progressive neurological disorders, pushing the medical field in a brave new direction.



References

Adesuyan, M., Jani, Y. H., Alsugeir, D., Howard, R., Ju, C., Wei, L., & Brauer, R. (2024). Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors in men with erectile dysfunction and the risk of alzheimer disease: A cohort study. Neurology, 102(4), e209131. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000209131

Alzheimer’s and dementia: What’s the difference? (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/alzheimers-and-dementia-whats-the-difference/faq-20396861

Alzheimer’s Disease. (n.d.). John Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alzheimers-disease

Alzheimer’s disease—Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference? (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/difference-between-dementia-and-alzheimer-s#:~:text=Alzheimer’s%20disease%20is%20the%20most,affect%20thinking%2C%20behavior%20and%20feelings.

Editor, G. L. P. (2021, December 8). Viagra could cut risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 70%. Genetic Literacy Project. https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2021/12/08/viagra-could-cut-risk-of-alzheimers-disease-by-as-much-as-70/

FDA approves Viagra. (n.d.). HISTORY. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fda-approves-viagra

Hippius, H., & Neundörfer, G. (2003). The discovery of Alzheimer’s disease. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 5(1), 101. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2003.5.1/hhippius

Men on Viagra may reduce their Alzheimer’s risk—Study. (2024, February 8). https://www.bbc.com/news/health-68232649

Mundell, E. (2024, February 8). Viagra, cialis may help reduce alzheimer’s risk. https://www.healthday.com/health-news/men-health/viagra-cialis-may-help-reduce-alzheimers-risk

UCL. (2024, February 8). Erectile dysfunction drugs linked to reduced Alzheimer’s risk. UCL News. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2024/feb/erectile-dysfunction-drugs-linked-reduced-alzheimers-risk

Viagra may help reduce Alzheimer’s risk, according to a new study. An expert explains the surprising connection. (n.d.). Fortune Well. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://fortune.com/well/2024/02/09/viagra-may-reduce-alzheimers-risk/



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