Argentinian reseachers have rather unaccountably discovered that Viagra helps ameliorate the effects of "jet lag" in hamsters, and might do the same for humans.
According to New Scientist, hamsters who were favoured with small doses of sildenafil, punted as Viagra, coped better with a simulated six-hour time-zone shift than their non-chemical-hardened chums - adapting to the jet lag up to 50 per cent faster.
Specifically, Diego Golombek and colleagues from the Quilmes National University in Buenos Aires took a bunch of hamsters and disrupted their normal cycle of 14 hours' daylight followed by 10 hours' night. They injected some of the subjects with 70 micrograms of Viagra, then shortly after switched off the cage lights early to simulate the effects of travelling between Paris and New York - a six-hour time shift - continuing this body-clock bashing for several weeks.
As a result, the hamsters became "disoriented" and, when the lights went out, eschewed their favoured nocturnal activity of hitting the running wheel. It took the control group 12 days to get back to their normal selves, "at which point they showed normal running activity soon after the lights went out", while the Viagra-boosted guinea pigs were up and running in eight days.
In humans, the NS notes, "each hour in time difference between the origin and destination of a flight causes an extra day of jet lag", so it'd take you or I around six days to properly recover from a Paris-New York jaunt. Small doses of Viagra might help because, as Golombek explained, it "raises levels of a small molecule called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) in the body" which temporarily accelerates the brain's internal body clock.
Golombek noted that the human equivalent of the 70 micrograms administered to the hamsters would be a tiny fraction of a full-fat dose contained in a blue pill, so it wouldn't cause a "massive surge in cGMP" and the need to cross the Atlantic with a newspaper on your lap. He said: "It's true that some people will be worried about the - let's call them side effects. But if we eliminate the erectile effects, I don't see why people wouldn't consider taking it."
All well and good, but the Viagra treatment would only work on westbound travel. The drug failed to deliver faster adjustment for hamsters subjected to an eastbound simulation - "when their period of light exposure is adjusted to begin after the normal time" - because "changes in cGMP levels do not slow down the body clock".
Indeed, a 2006 study on rodents discovered that "severe time advances hastened death much more than time delays". Quilmes National University team member Patricia Agostino said the body "adapts better when you travel west", while admitting the reason is unknown. She speculated that "there are probably different molecular pathways that account for time advances and delays".
The researchers' findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®