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Viagra Evolves
As the Little Blue Pill Turns Six, New Research Suggests Viagra May be Helpful, and Harmful, in Unexpected Ways

March 26th, 2004

By Ken McGrath :eCureMe Staff Writer
April 13th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

When Viagra hit the market in 1998 it was hailed as a miracle by millions of men and became the fastest selling drug in the U.S.A. Now, evidence is emerging that beyond just manufacturing erections, the drug may hurt fertility, help treat certain kinds of lung disease and win elections.

While Viagra may make sex more likely for some, researchers from Queen’s University in Northern Ireland found that it can make sperm less likely to fertilize eggs. The researchers exposed sperm samples to Viagra and found that while sperm became more active, they became less fertile. The problem lay in a set of enzymes excreted by sperm cells. As sperm swim toward an egg, they release a set of chemicals that help to weaken its outer lining, making it easier to penetrate. The sperm that were exposed to Viagra released the enzymes prematurely, so when they hit the egg, fewer were able to wiggle inside. Previous studies, which have shown that mice who are given the drug father fewer offspring, reinforce the findings.

For its part, Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, responded that its drug doesn’t reduce fertility. If anything, Pfizer spokesman told reporters, "Viagra has helped some men actually father children [by aiding] the fertility of men with severe erectile dysfunction."

Viagra’s maker is less likely to be on the defensive about recent reports that their product can help those who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension occurs when, for reasons not completely understood by doctors, blood pressure in the lungs rises and stays high for extended periods. Ultimately, the condition can cause heart failure. But a report published in this month’s Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that patients who take Viagra three times a day experience less of the fatigue and breathlessness that accompany the condition. Doctors at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital have also used the drug to lower the blood pressures of newborns with the condition.

The drug essentially works the same way above the belt as below it. Viagra stimulates chemical activity that allows smooth muscles to relax and blood vessels to dilate. This allows blood to flow more freely; either through the penis or the lungs. Further, large-scale studies on the drug’s crossover use are underway, with results expected back in the coming months.

The benefits of using Viagra for non-medical purposes, however, are less clear. In late March, a Brazilian politician - Antonio Jose Moraes Souza - was ordered to leave office after investigations revealed he had paid voters in his district to swing their votes his way. Bribery? Not in the traditional sense. Instead of handing out cash to his supporters, Souza gave away boxes of Viagra to those who promised their support at the polls.

Good, bad or bizarre, the little blue pill will likely continue to shake things up inside and outside the bedroom for quite a while to come.

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