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Study suggests erectile dysfunction drugs “may point to a new way to reduce Alzheimer’s risk”

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9 February 2024

The new findings from the UCL led study found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 18% less in men prescribed drugs commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction.

The cohort study examined the medical records of 269,725 men with erectile dysfunction with just over half already taking a prescribed phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor drug such as Viagra. After an average follow up period of just over five years, the study found 8.1 cases of Alzheimer's per 10,000 person years in the group prescribed the drugs, and 9.7 cases in the group not taking them.

The researchers also observed a 44% reduction in the risk for those men who received the most prescriptions for treating erectile dysfunction over the course of the study which suggests regularly taking the treatment may have a greater impact on preventing the disease developing.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia with an estimated 50 million people across the world living with the life-altering neurodegenerative condition. The disease is caused by plaques in the brain formed of amyloid and tau becoming clumped together under certain conditions. It is the build-up of these substances that the erectile dysfunction drugs may be able to treat.

The findings have now been published in journal Neurology with the paper’s authors discussing other confounding factors and the need for a larger randomised control trial, and including women as participants, to prove the impact of the drugs.

Dr Ruth Brauer, Lecturer in Pharmacoepidemiology and Medication Safety at UCL School of Pharmacy, and lead author for the study, said

“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.

“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.”

Matthew Adesuyan, PhD student at the UCL School of Pharmacy, and first author on the paper, said:

“While we cannot say based on our findings whether the drugs themselves were reducing people’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the results are encouraging and may point to a new way to reduce Alzheimer’s risk.”

The study was led by University College London and was funded by the Centre for Medicines Optimisation Research and Education, University College London Hospital (UCLH) NHS Foundation Trust and University College London, by the UCLH National Institute for Health, and by Care Research Biomedical Research Centre.

The paper can be read in the journal Neurology: Phosphodiesterase Type 5 Inhibitors in Men With Erectile Dysfunction and the Risk of Alzheimer Disease

University College London have reported on the findings in their own news article: Erectile dysfunction drugs linked to reduced Alzheimer's risk

The BBC have published an article on the news by Philippa Roxby: Men on Viagra may reduce their Alzheimer's risk – study

Ian Sample, Science Editor at The Guardian has written on the subject: Viagra may help to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, study finds

Further information on Alzheimer’s diseases is available from the NHS and the Alzheimer’s Society




Image: Thought Catalogue