The Grapevine

Viagra For Type 2 Diabetes: 'Little Blue Pill' Reduces Insulin Resistance Without Risk Of Heart And Kidney Disease

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Sildenafil, active ingredient in Viagra, may improve insulin sensitivity and prevent type 2 diabetes, without heart and kidney disease risk. Dennis Skley, CC BY-ND 2.0

The “little blue pill” not only helps men “get it up” during sex, it may also up insulin sensitivity among diabetics. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found sildenafil — the drug that treats erectile dysfunction (ED) — can ward off type 2 diabetes in those with prediabetes, while reducing the risk of heart and kidney disease.

In the U.S., 29 million Americans have diabetes and three in 10 adults have prediabetes, according to the Society’s Endocrine Facts and Figures report. Without intervention, 30 percent of people with prediabetes are likely to develop type 2 diabetes within five years. Dr. Nancy J. Brown, author of the study from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., believes additional strategies, like sildenafil, are necessary to help slow the progression from prediabetes to diabetes.

"Weight loss and exercise regimens can be difficult to maintain, and some current medications have been limited by concerns about adverse effects. Sildenafil and related drugs could offer a potential avenue for addressing the rising number of diabetes diagnoses," she said in the press release.

Sildenafil, typically known for treating ED, works by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down the natural blood vessel-relaxing chemical, cGMP. The drug has been proven to increase insulin sensitivity in mice, but the effect of the drug on humans with prediabetes has been unknown.

Someone who is insulin sensitive requires smaller amounts of insulin to lower blood sugar levels than someone who has a low sensitivity, or is insulin resistant. Insulin resistance occurs when there are high blood sugar levels in the body and the individual cannot produce enough insulin, or insulin does not function properly to clear sugar from the bloodstream. This can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Brown and her colleagues recruited 51 overweight participants with prediabetes to determine whether sildenafil can improve insulin sensitivity. The participants were given 25 milligrams of sildenafil three times per day or an inactive placebo for three months. They underwent a hyperglycemic clamp prior to and at the end of treatment to measure glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and their insulin sensitivity. Urine samples were also collected for measurement of albumin and creatinine, which are indicators of heart and kidney health.

The findings revealed the participants who were treated with sildenafil were more sensitive to the effects of insulin. Sildenafil also lowered levels of albumin in the urine than those who took the placebo. High levels of albumin in urine are a marker for the risk of kidney and heart disease.

Drugs like sildenafil also affect the function of the inner lining of the blood vessels. This has a subtle effect on blood sugar metabolism and insulin resistance.

"Because existing drug therapies to prevent type 2 diabetes can have negative effects on the heart or be of limited use in patients with kidney disease, strategies to prevent diabetes without adversely affecting the risk of kidney and heart disease could have a large impact on public health," Brown said.

Viagra as a treatment for type 2 diabetes could be valuable for diabetic men who take the drug to treat ED. ED is a common occurrence in men with diabetes, because it is related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as damage to the nerves that are responsible for getting an erection, according to the Mayo Clinic. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.

Men shouldn't rush to take the sex drug just yet, though. Researchers warn further research is still needed with larger clinical trials and over extended periods of time to determine if sildenafil could become an easier alternative for diabetes management and reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Sources: Ramirez CE, Hui N, Yu C et al. Treatment with Sildenafil Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Prediabetes: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015.

Ayala JE, Bract DP, Julien BM et al. Chronic Treatment With Sildenafil Improves Energy Balance and Insulin Action in High Fat–Fed Conscious Mice. Diabetes. 2007.

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