A new study has suggested that erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in men.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) examined the medical records of nearly 300,000 men aged over 40 who were diagnosed with erectile dysfunction, where more than half of the men were prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Cialis, Vardenafil and Avanafil.
Analysis from UCL found that those taking the drugs were 18% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared with the men who had erectile dysfunction but did not take the drug.
Men who were prescribed these drugs “most frequently” were even less likely to develop the disease, with the scientists finding that those who received between 21 and 50 prescriptions over the course of their study had a 44% lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
Though the study was encouraging, the authors were keen to stress that they cannot say unequivocally whether the drugs were responsible or whether men who were already not likely to develop the condition were simultaneously more likely to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction and be prescribed pills as a result.
However, researchers also noted that previous research in animals found that drugs with similar properties to Viagra have shown some “neuroprotective benefits”.
Dr Ruth Brauer from the UCL School of Pharmacy, who was lead author of the study, said: “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, told Sky News that this was “an encouraging finding” but that further researched was needed.
“Such studies should also uncover whether these drugs might have effects in other groups, such as women, and men without a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. We also need to understanding how this evidence might apply to more diverse populations,” she added.
There is currently no cure for the disease, though there have been new drugs developed in recent years that have shown marginal effects in slowing down the disease.