Could drugs that give a boost to men's sexual performance help them stave off Alzheimer's disease?
That's the main finding from a study suggesting that erectile dysfunction meds like Cialis, Levitra and Viagra might lower the odds for the memory-robbing illness.
The study wasn't designed to prove cause-and-effect, cautioned British researchers at University College London.
“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,” explained study co-author Ruth Brauer, a lecturer in pharmacoepidemiology and medication safety at the university.
She also believes that, “a randomized, controlled trial with both male and female participants is warranted to determine whether these findings would apply to women as well.”
The findings were published Feb. 7 in the journal Neurology.
Erectile dysfunction medications work by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow.
The new study involved almost 270,000 men, averaging 59 years of age, who had all been newly diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED). A little more than half of them were prescribed an ED drug. None of the men had any cognitive or memory issues when they entered the study.
Over five years of follow-up, 1,119 of the men were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Bauer's team reported that men who were taking an ED drug had an 18% lower odds of developing Alzheimer's compared to those who weren't. That finding held even after the researchers had adjusted for other risk factors, such as age, smoking status and alcohol consumption.
The jury is still out on whether the ED meds directly caused the drop in Alzheimer's risk, and more study is needed. But Bauer believes the research points in interesting directions.
“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,” she said in a journal news release. “These results are encouraging and warrant further research.”