NEW RESEARCH SHOWS THAT THESE PILLS COULD HELP EFFECTIVELY TREAT THE DISEASE.
The process of developing and approving a medicine for use by the general public is a long and daunting one, filled with long tests and clinical trials to ensure the product’s safety.
In most cases, this leaves us with all the information we need on how well the drug treats the problem it’s intended to and any problems or side effects it may cause. But in some cases, there could be benefits to specific prescriptions that may go unnoticed until they’re already in use.
Now, a new study has found that one popular medication may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease considerably, even though that’s not its main intended purpose. Read on to see which pill could be beneficial for long-term brain health.
A new study finds that Viagra could lower your Alzheimer’s risk by almost 70 percent
The latest research comes from scientists at the Cleveland Clinic who recently published their work in the journal Nature Aging. In the study, the team analyzed a database with health insurance claim information on more than 7.2 million patients in the U.S., using computers to establish a gene-mapping network and investigate if any of the more than 1,600 medications currently approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease effectively.
The analysis showed that patients who took sildenafil—often sold under the brand name Viagra—were 69 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease during the study’s six-year followup period than patients who didn’t take the drug.
Viagra has previously been found to interact with the proteins in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease
The study’s authors began with a theory that drugs that target both amyloid and tau proteins in the brain—which are closely associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease—would be most effective at treating the disease. Previous research has shown that sildenafil interacts with both.
“We hypothesized that drugs targeting the molecular network intersection of amyloid and tau endophenotypes should have the greatest potential for success… Sildenafil, which has been shown to improve cognition and memory in preclinical models significantly, presented as the best drug candidate,” Feixiong Cheng, a computational biologist and senior author of the study, said in a statement.
“Notably, we found that sildenafil use reduced the likelihood of Alzheimer’s in individuals with coronary artery disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are comorbidities significantly associated with risk of the disease, as well as in those without,” Cheng added.
And it wasn’t just the analysis that yielded intriguing results. Using a lab model, the team also showed that higher than normally prescribed doses of sildenafil increased brain cell growth while also targeting tau proteins.
The research team is already planning a clinical trial to verify their results
While it’s primarily known for its use in treating erectile dysfunction, sildenafil was initially designed as a heart medication with the ability to control and improve blood flow by widening or tightening blood vessels around the body. In fact, the pill is already used in both men and women to treat a condition affecting arteries near the heart called pulmonary hypertension, the BBC reports.
Now, the team says they plan to build on their results with more research to better establish a connection between the drug and the cognitive condition—and possibly use the same research process to help treat other diseases that affect the brain.
“Because our findings only establish an association between sildenafil use and reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, we are now planning a mechanistic trial and a phase II randomized clinical trial to test causality and confirm sildenafil’s clinical benefits for Alzheimer’s patients,” Cheng said in the statement.
“We also foresee our approach being applied to other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to accelerate the drug discovery process.”
Experts say that while the research is promising, more studies are needed to back up the evidence
Experts warned that more research would be needed on the effects Viagra could have on Alzheimer’s risk before changes could be made to medical practices in response to the study. “Being able to repurpose a drug already licensed for other health conditions could help speed up the drug discovery process and bring about life-changing dementia treatments sooner,” Susan Kohlhaas, PhD, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research U.K., who was not involved with the study, told The Guardian.
“Importantly, this research doesn’t prove that sildenafil is responsible for reducing dementia risk or that it slows or stops the disease,” she clarified. “The only way to test this would be in a large-scale clinical trial measuring sildenafil effect against the usual standard of care.”
Others also said they would be waiting out further studies on the drug before jumping to any major conclusions. “More work will be needed to know whether this drug can indeed lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” Tara Spires-Jones, PhD, a brain research expert from the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved with the study, told the BBC. “While these data are interesting scientifically, based on this study, I would not rush out to start taking sildenafil as a prevention for Alzheimer’s disease.”