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Viagra Helps Cyclists at High Altitudes - Bicycle Exercise Performance Benefit by As Much As 45% In Study Using Sildenafil

June 25th 2006

Viagra Helps Cyclists at High Altitudes - Bicycle Exercise Performance Benefit by As Much As 45% In Study Using Sildenafil


Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center believe that Viagra improves cardiovascular and exercise performance measures of trained cyclists at high altitude.  Some of the participants had an improved performance of up to 45%, while others found no benefit and there was no benefit for anyone at sea level.

Ten cyclists who took sildenafil (Viagra) collectively improved their stroke volume (the volume of blood moved out of one ventricle of the heart per beat) and cardiac output (stroke volume times heart rate) compared to the placebo trial.  The researcher also found that the Viagra group minimized the decline of arterial oxygen saturation of the arteries when the cyclists were at simulated altitude of 12,700 feet.

Viagra works by relaxing the blood vessels in the lungs and other organs.  This improves blood flow from the heart and increases oxygen transport to working muscles.  This is especially important in high altitude events, since it is more difficult to support strenuous physical activity than it is at sea level.


Sildenafil inhibits phosphodiestrase-5, an enzyme which degrades cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) a cell messenger that causes the blood vessels to relax.  This allows greater vasodilation and greater blood flow. Although the drug works in different target sites, this study focused on the lungs.

All of the participants were “trained cyclists”, and performed a total of 10 cycling trails.  Neither the riders of the researchers knew whether the trial included a placebo or the two sildenafil doses, 50 mg or 100 mg, according to the report. 

The altitude was simulated by changing the mix of air.  The cyclists began breathing the high altitude mix starting one hour before the exercise session and continuing through the session. The simulation did not include the lower air pressure that would occur at altitude, Anne L. Friedlander said. Friedlander works for the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University.


Four of the 10 participants responded to sildenafil while the remaining six did not, Friedlander said.  These 4 responders showed the greatest drops in stroke volume, cardiac output, and cycling performance between the sea level and high altitude trials without the drug.

"One of the messages of the paper is that not everybody benefits," Friedlander said. Sildenafil could be considered as a treatment for those who suffer most at altitude but, because of side effects that can include severe headaches and the apparent inability to help some people, it should not be taken as an exercise aid by everyone, she said. The research appears in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

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Dan Wilson
Best Syndication


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