Alzheimer’s Risk May Be Lowered by Erectile Dysfunction Drugs

Scientists have found a potential solution to reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s disease from an unlikely source: phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, drugs for erectile dysfunction.

About 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The progressive disease is the most common form of dementia and is associated with memory loss and cognitive decline in regions of the brain involved in memory, thought and language.

Scientists believe the condition is caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins—scientifically called amyloid plaques—in and around the brain cells, but exactly what triggers this process is still unclear.

“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,” Ruth Brauer, a lecturer in pharmacoepidemiology at University College London, said in a statement.

In a new study published in the journal Neurology Brauer and colleagues followed 269,725 male participants with an average age of 59 who had recently been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. Fifty-five percent were prescribed medication for erectile dysfunction, while the other 45 percent did not have a prescription.

At the start of the study, none of the men reported having any memory or thinking problems at the start of the study. All patients were followed up for at least a year after receiving the diagnosis. By the end of the study period, 1,119 participants had developed Alzheimer’s.

After adjusting for lifestyle factors that are also known to influence Alzheimer’s, like smoking and alcohol consumption, the team found that the men who took medication for erectile dysfunction were 18 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who did not.

This is not the first time erectile dysfunction drugs have been shown to benefit other health outcomes. Viagra was originally invented as a treatment for high blood pressure heart disease-induced chest pain.

The drugs work by dilating blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through them, and this may also be what causes the risk reduction for Alzheimer’s. However, at this point, we do not know for sure whether the correlation between Alzheimer’s and erectile dysfunction drugs is actually caused by a protective effect from these drugs.

“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,” Brauer said. “A randomized, controlled trial with both male and female participants is warranted to determine whether these findings would apply to women as well.”

Erectile disfunction drugs may reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study found. Exactly what triggers Alzheimer’s is still unclear.


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