The (other) surprising uses of Viagra

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Could Viagra be a Swiss Army knife of medicine, helping to cure deadly diseases such as Covid, Alzheimer’s and cancer, while providing its most famous sexual benefit?

The drug’s multiple potential was highlighted this week when a respiratory nurse who had spent 28 days in a Covid coma returned after doctors gave her a large dose of the drug as part of a treatment regimen. experimental.

Monica Almeida, 37, a mother of two with double-needle asthma from Lincolnshire, says the drug stimulated blood flow around her body by relaxing the walls of blood vessels, which helped open up the air sacs in her lungs.

She said she was only three days away from stopping her ventilator when her condition started to improve and she woke up on December 14.

Last month, researchers suggested it might help treat Alzheimer’s disease, the journal Nature Aging reported. US investigators analyzed data from seven million patients and found that men taking the drug had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over a six-year period.

This is the first time that the drug has been used on a Covid patient in the UK.

Viagra (or sildenafil, its generic name) was developed to treat angina, which causes aching chest pain due to restricted blood flow to the heart. In trials, sildenafil showed little benefit for angina pain, but male volunteers reported an unusual side effect – erections. And in 1998, sildenafil was approved as the first proven drug for erectile dysfunction.

But he seems to have other actions as well. Last month, researchers suggested it might help treat Alzheimer’s disease, the journal Nature Aging reported. US investigators analyzed data from seven million patients and found that men taking the drug had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over a six-year period.

In lab tests, researchers found that sildenafil appears to target a form of protein, called tau, found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Tests also found that high doses of the drug increased the growth of brain cells. Previously, scientists had explored whether sildenafil could help people at risk for vascular dementia, which occurs when reduced blood flow damages the brain.

Such a benefit is more easily explained, as it boils down to the drug’s basic abilities to stimulate blood flow. Sildenafil is a vasodilator: it widens blood vessels to allow free flow of blood.

Monica Almeida, 37, a mother of two with double-needle asthma from Lincolnshire, says the drug stimulated blood flow around her body by relaxing the walls of the blood vessels.  She is pictured with her husband Arthur

Monica Almeida, 37, a mother of two with double-needle asthma from Lincolnshire, says the drug stimulated blood flow around her body by relaxing the walls of the blood vessels. She is pictured with her husband Arthur

This is why sildenafil is also used to increase blood flow to damaged limbs, to prevent amputation, and to treat pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the vessels that carry blood. from the heart to the lungs. This can cause severe shortness of breath and chest pain.

Compounds linked to sildenafil may reverse signs of heart failure, according to 2019 research in the journal Scientific Reports, which showed that the benefits for blood stimulation “improved the contraction of heart failure and reversed the damage. undesirable structural ”.

And in 2020, Indian researchers announced that a sildenafil-based gel could heal damaged skin in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Scientists said the drug triggers the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that helps in healing wounds, by stimulating the flow of oxygen-rich blood.

Sildenafil can even help kill tumors in the lungs, prostate, stomach, and ovaries. According to New Zealand researchers, the drug encourages unwanted cancer cells to kill themselves, a process called apoptosis. They reported in the journal Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry in 2018 how, in tests, sildenafil, used with chemotherapy drugs, shrinks tumors more effectively than when chemotherapy is used alone.

Another strange effect is its potential for treating jet lag. Rodent studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2007 showed that sildenafil can shift the body clock to wake up and sleep earlier by altering the action of the hormone cyclic guanosine monophosphate.

Prof Gino Martini, former chief scientist of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said that the versatility of Good Health’s sildenafil stems from the fact that “many of our biological pathways” and our brains are interdependent and what affects one pathway can. affect many others.

He adds: “In the case of sildenafil, these additional effects are very fortuitous, especially since it is a drug that has been widely used and tested for safety.”

But like any drug, it is not without risks. In people who have had heart attacks, strokes, or low blood pressure, sildenafil may exacerbate symptoms or cause a cross reaction with other medicines.

Meanwhile, Professor Martini says Monica Almeida’s case does not prove that sildenafil is an effective remedy for severe Covid infection.

“The problem with the pandemic is that a lot of people have tried a lot of drugs on a lot of patients, and there can be random results that don’t tell us if something is really working,” he says.

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