A new study finds that Viagra (the market name of sildenafil) improves insulin sensitivity in people with prediabetes.

The research, conducted at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, found that insulin sensitivity improved in people with prediabetes when they were treated with Viagra. The findings suggest that Viagra, a drug commonly prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction, could be used to hinder the development of type 2 diabetes in at-risk individuals.

How was the study conducted?

42 participants were separated into two groups: the first was given 25mg of Viagra three times a day; the second was given a placebo. At the end of the three month study, the group given Viagra was significantly more sensitive to insulin than the group given a placebo. That group also showed fewer biological markers that signal a higher risk of kidney and heart disease.

“We need additional strategies to help slow the progression from prediabetes to diabetes,” said Nancy J. Brown, of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “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.

“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. Further studies will be needed to determine whether long-term treatment with drugs like sildenafil can prevent the onset of [type 2] diabetes in high-risk patients.”

Viagra and insulin sensitivity: a promising avenue of treatment?

Although the findings are promising, the study is limited. It only involved 42 participants, followed them for just three months, and only tested one dosage of Viagra. Insulin sensitivity may decline again over a longer period of time, and there may be another dosage that is more effective in improving insulin sensitivity. Moreover, there are other effects of Viagra that might not be desirable for patients with prediabetes. Researchers will need to identify which specific component of the drug that improves insulin sensitivity.

The findings are published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.