Thursday » June
29 » 2006 . but if it's time to fight, they might want a Viagra
Drug could help troops cope with mountain altitudes, study finds
Tom Spears The Ottawa Citizen Friday, June 23, 2006 U.S. scientists looking for a way to help soldiers perform in Afghanistan's mountains have found a miracle pill that safely helps the heart and lungs work at high altitudes -- Viagra.
In tests on cyclists in the thin air of high altitudes, the drug helped many men ride taller
in the saddle, though it didn't boost the performance of everyone.
The study's next question is: Will it do anything for women?
Viagra was invented as a drug for high blood pressure and works by making some blood
vessels relax and carry more blood. It was only while testing it for safety in volunteers
that doctors recognized its side-effects -- which went on to become the main reason for
Pfizer and its happy investors have never looked back.
But the heart benefits are still there, so researchers from Stanford University Medical
Center and the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs tested the theory that, by helping the heart and lungs circulate oxygen-rich blood, Viagra might help athletes or workers at
They set cyclists pedalling, comparing the performances of subjects taking the drug and
At sea level, Viagra didn't help anyone. But as the researchers made the air thinner in a
test chamber that simulates mountain conditions, they found some men using Viagra could circulate oxygen to their muscles so well it raised their ability to work by as much as
45 per cent. Overall, this group improved by 39 per cent, as measured in time trials on a
Other men, for unknown reasons, found no benefit at all. Women haven't been tested yet.
And would there be side-effects with Viagra?
"Oh yeah!" affirmed Roger Pierson, a fertility researcher at the University of
The drug expands many blood vessels, he said. And if it's helping the lungs, it's creating
"It's also going to leave you with a headache," he said.
The 3,874-metre altitude simulated in the tests is similar to peaks in Afghanistan, or the
Viagra only helped four of the 10 men in the study, reports Anne Friedlander, a hormone
researcher with Stanford and Veterans' Affairs. (All the men were strong cyclists.) Oddly,
the ones it helped most were the ones who had the most trouble with the thin air in the first place, suggesting that the drug could be of great help to people who suffer altitude
Some of the men took the usual one-pill dose, while others took a double dose. The men
weren't told who had the real pills, but it's a safe bet that some figured it out on their
Results are now published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
But Dr. Alvaro Morales, a urologist at Queen's University, cautions that the benefits are
short-lived, because Viagra doesn't stay long in the body.
The report "doesn't sound out of whack to me," he said. But "for a soldier who has to worknot just for an hour or two hours, like having an erection, but maybe has to work for six
or eight hours, the effect of the medication may be very short-acting."
DND officials turned down a chance to comment on the study.
Copyright 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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