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Viagra’s other benefits? Doctors debate them
June 15, 2010
SPECIAL TO THE STAR Levitra, Cialis and Viagra may be best known for restoring lead to flagging pencils. But there may be a range of other health benefits associated with drugs normally prescribed to deal with erectile dysfunction. The trio of pills may, in fact, protect and restore a man’s vascular system. Some leading urologists such as Hamilton’s Dr. Michael Greenspan think men in their 40s and up should start the day with a 51-milligram baby aspirin to prevent heart attacks, a Lipitor or other statin to lower cholesterol and a low-dose version of one of those three to protect blood vessels. Or, put another way: “A pipe is a pipe is a pipe,” explains Dr. Keith Jarvi, chief urologist at Mount Sinai. If Viagra, Cialis and Levitra restore blood vessels leading to the testicles, they probably do the same thing for those leading to the heart, the thinking goes. One aspect of the powerful effect of these pills comes from their ability to relax smooth muscles, the doctors say. This means they appear to provide benefit for men suffering prostate-induced difficulty urinating. “I have patients who know where every public washroom in Toronto is,” says Dr. Jarvi. An enlarged prostate can result in lack of bladder control; men with enlarged prostates may feel the need to urinate frequently, but when they try the stream is a trickle, not a torrent. If they fail to make it to the washroom in time, the result can be an embarrassing accident. “These three medications seem to both make urination easier and may reduce that feeling of having to go,” Dr. Jarvi says. “There is even some evidence that they can perform the same function in women as well.” So, what are Viagra, Levitra and Cialis and just how do they go about performing wonders for men? Viagra, that little blue pill, was the first on the block; it was released for sale in Canada in 1999, followed by Cialis and Levitra in 2003. While each relies on a different formulation, what they share is the ability to inhibit a molecule called PDE5. That is a chemical in men’s bodies that constricts blood vessels and restricts the flow of blood. In one of those happy coincidences of medical synchronicity, the drugs were first tried to provide relief for angina patients. They did little for that condition, but patients in the trials reported amazing results below the belt. Pop one of these pills and within half an hour to an hour the blood flows like Niagara to the penis, and, if a man has the right stimulation, the result can be an erection that would make a teenager proud. Just how soon the effects kick in can depend on how much alcohol is consumed in the hours leading up to the main event, physicians warn. For fastest results, moderation in the consumption of alchohol is required. For Viagra and Levitra, the results can last up to 10 hours; for Cialis the potential is triple that, says Dr. Greenspan. Cialis is even available as a daily 5 mg. pill, he adds. “Many men prefer it, because it allows for more impromptu sex,” he says. Erections are good for maintaining health, Dr. Jarvi adds. “It is that old principle, use it or lose it; to maintain the structure of the penis in good shape, you want to have erections during the day time and while you sleep.” While erectile dysfunction is most associated with aging and with conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes in men who will never see 50 again, young men do also suffer it. If a man less than 45 starts to notice difficulty gaining and maintaining an erection, it may be a tell tale sign of incipient heart disease. In football players, the knees usually go first; in male bodies, generally, it is the small blood vessels in the penis. Once they start to malfunction, the larger vessels leading to the heart seem likely to follow. “Studies have shown that two-thirds of men under 60 who have ED experience a heart attack or coronary event within three years,” says Dr. Greenspan. “What most people don’t know is that these pills have a restorative and preventative effect.” While physicians such as Dr. Greenspan feel a low-dose of one of these three pills every morning may help prevent heart incidents, others such as Dr. Lawrence Klotz, chief urologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, say there is not enough evidence yet to support such a move. “What I can say is that the effects Levitra, Cialis and Viagra have as a preventative measure are promising,” he says. So who can take these medications? Just about any man if any age except those taking nitroglycerine based medications, say the doctors. But there are real dangers, says Dr. Klotz. “Taking them along with nitroglycerine medication could lead to a rapid loss of blood pressure.” A word of warning. Physicians say the cost averages perhaps $13 a pill. But there will be a generic version of Viagra in 2014.


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