Viagra Improves Brain Blood Flow, May Help Prevent Dementia: Oxford Study

Scientists have found that Sildenafil, popularly known by its brand name Viagra, has the capability to increase blood flow in both large and small brain vessels.

Viagra Improves Brain Blood Flow, May Help Prevent Dementia: Oxford Study

The study was published in the journal Circulation Research.

Sildenafil, popularly known by its brand name Viagra, may have benefits beyond treating men suffering from erectile dysfunction, a new study has found. The drug has the ability to enhance blood flow to the brain and improve the function of blood vessels in individuals at high risk of vascular dementia, says the research carried out by scientists at the University of Oxford.

Vascular dementia is a condition that majorly impacts cognitive functions, including judgement, memory and others. This happens due to the reduced blood supply to the brain affecting brain tissue and damaging it. 

The study, published in the journal Circulation Research, marks a potentially pivotal step in the fight against dementia.

Key findings

Scientists found that Sildenafil has the capability to increase blood flow in both large and small brain vessels, which were measured by ultrasound and MRI scans. It enhanced the blood flow response to carbon dioxide, indicating improved cerebrovascular function.

Further, sildenafil, along with cilostazol, lowered blood vessel resistance in the brain, the study suggested.

However, it noted that Sildenafil caused fewer side effects in comparison with cilostazol, particularly with less incidence of diarrhoea.

"This is the first trial to show that sildenafil gets into the blood vessels in the brain in people with this condition, improving blood flow and how responsive these blood vessels are," said Dr Alastair Webb, Associate Professor at the Wolfson Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia at Oxford University. 

He asserted that these factors are associated with chronic damage to the small blood vessels inside the brain, one of the most common causes of vascular dementia. "This demonstrates the potential of this well-tolerated, widely-available drug to prevent dementia, which needs testing in larger trials," Dr Webb added.

Noting that vascular dementia currently lacks specific therapies, the report claimed that chronic damage to the small blood vessels in the brain is not the only leading cause of this condition, as it also contributes to 30% of strokes and 80% of brain bleeds. 

The OxHARP trial involved 75 participants who experienced a minor stroke, showing signs of mild to moderate small vessel disease. 

Each participant was given sildenafil, a placebo, and cilostazol -- a similar drug -- over a three-week period. To evaluate the effects of the drugs, the study employed cardiovascular physiology tests, ultrasound as well as functional MRI scans.

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