An erectile dysfunction drug for bodybuilding and health? Yep. Sildenafil (Viagra) and its cousins have more than one body-hardening benefit.
In 1986, scientists discovered that nitric oxide (NO) was a potent vasodilator and could improve circulation and heart health. Researchers at Pfizer began experimenting with drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors that enhance and perpetuate NO’s blood-vessel dilating effects.
Their goal, at the time, was to find a treatment for angina. First up was a drug called sildenafil citrate, but drug trials showed that it was only modestly effective in treating the condition.
However, the researchers started looking at the notes detailing the drug’s side effects. And there it was: many test subjects confessed to being visited by the erection fairy. Pfizer rapidly switched gears and began pilot studies of sildenafil citrate’s effects on erectile dysfunction. Viagra was soon approved by the FDA.
Older men loved it. Even younger men glommed onto the drug, as they also did with its chemical cousins Cialis and Levitra, because the drugs helped with performance anxiety and reduced the downtime between sexual episodes.
But there are other reasons men might use these drugs. They’re not only health-related but bodybuilding-related, too. In fact, there’s sufficient evidence to support the idea of taking these drugs every day, like any other health-promoting supplement.
The most elemental and basic effect of sildenafil and its cousins is increased blood flow, not only to the heart and penis but to all body parts, including muscles. More blood flow means a better pump from resistance exercise and increased nutrient flow to muscles, which is a good thing.
A 2005 study found that 10 mg. and 20 mg. doses of Cialis, taken an average of 10 times a month, significantly reduced estradiol levels, but only in men who didn’t have too much body fat – those with a BMI of less than 27 (1). Men with more body fat have higher aromatase levels and convert testosterone to estradiol with impunity, regardless of how much Cialis they pop.
A study of Viagra’s effects on 140 low-testosterone men between 40 and 70 found that the drug boosted testosterone levels by about 100 clicks (2). While some of this rise in male hormone might be because some testosterone resisted being converted into estrogen, some of it was also apparently from increased testosterone production by the testes.
Viagra reduces diabetes-induced oxidative stress and improves insulin sensitivity. This experiment, unlike the others, was conducted on rats, but there’s a decent chance it would work similarly in humans.
- Cialis has been shown to quash symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, like frequent urination. There’s also some evidence that PDE-5 drugs improve prostate health in general.
- Viagra has been shown to treat abnormally high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries (known as pulmonary hypertension).
- Despite early studies that didn’t show much of an effect, Viagra and the other PDE-5 drugs have lately been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of angina, along with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.
Sporadic use of these drugs (less than 8 to 10 times a month) might not confer any long-lasting health effects. However, Cialis is approved for once-daily use, and it’s reasonable to think that patients, young or old, who have such a prescription and are using it every day, are reaping some, if not all, of the above benefits.
However, if further research supports or adds to the list of positive research, we might eventually get to the point where docs almost universally recommend the daily use of the drugs, just as they do with baby aspirin.
- Greco EA et al. Testosterone:Estradiol ratio changes associated with long-term tadalafil administration: a pilot study. J Sex Med. 2006 Jul;3(4):716-722. PubMed.
- Spitzer M et al. Sildenafil increases serum testosterone levels by a direct action on the testes. Andrology. 2013 Nov;1(6):913-8. PubMed.
- Milani E et al. Reduction of diabetes-induced oxidative stress by phos- phodiesterase inhibitors in rats. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2005 Feb;140(2):251-5. PubMed.