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Viagra could reduce risk of Alzheimer's, study finds

Drugs such as viagra could reduce the risk of Alzheimers  (AFP/Getty)
Drugs such as viagra could reduce the risk of Alzheimers (AFP/Getty)

Drugs commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study has found.

Researchers at University College London found that men prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs, including Viagra, were 18 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease years later.

The study involved 269,725 male participants with an average age of 59 who were newly diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. Participants did not have any memory or thinking problems at the start of the study. They were then followed for an average of five years.

Just over half (55 per cent) of participants took drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, which include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil and avanafil. This data was compared with men with erectile dysfunction who were not prescribed any drugs.

The association was strongest among men who had been issued the most prescriptions, suggesting that regular use of the drug might have a greater impact on reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

Erectile dysfunction drugs work by dilating blood vessels and were initially developed to treat hypertension and angina.

Scientists believe that they may also influence memory as they act on a cell signalling messenger that has been linked to improved cognition. These drugs may also be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect brain cell activity.

Lead author Dr Ruth Brauer, of the UCL School of Pharmacy, said: “Although we’re making progress with the new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that work to clear amyloid plaques in the brain for people with early stages of the disease, we desperately need treatments that can prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“More research is needed to confirm these findings, learn more about the potential benefits and mechanisms of these drugs and look into the optimal dosage. A randomised, controlled trial with both male and female participants is warranted to determine whether these findings would apply to women as well.”

Dr Leah Mursaleen, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Developing drugs for diseases like Alzheimer’s is a costly process and can take many years. Being able to repurpose drugs already licensed for other health conditions could help accelerate progress and open up new avenues to prevent or treat dementia-causing diseases.”

But she added: “While this is an encouraging finding, it doesn’t yet confirm whether these drugs are directly responsible for reducing Alzheimer’s risk, nor whether they can slow or stop the disease. Further research – including clinical trials - will be needed to confirm whether these drugs can indeed play a role in preventing or treating Alzheimer’s.”