Viagra: The Hidden Mountain Medicine?

A crackshot team of Rock and Ice investigative journalists has uncovered startling evidence that the famed erectile dysfunction drug Viagra also helps fight hypoxia at high altitudes

By Owen Clarke | February 16th, 2021

A viagra tablet. Photo: Audrey Disse.

 

Yes, you read that headline right: Viagra. A German study published nearly two decades ago in Annals of Internal Medicine found that the little blue pill had remarkable impact mitigating the effects of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) for mountaineers and trekkers on Everest.

Hypoxia is the condition which causes altitude sickness, and results in constricted blood vessels in the pulmonary system, making it harder to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream when you breathe (I think). Researchers in this study measured the effects of Viagra (sildenafil) when taken both at sea level and at high altitudes, in the vicinity of Everest Base Camp (17,598 ft).

 

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The experiences of 14 healthy Swiss and German mountaineers (men and women) were documented after taking sildenafil, and researchers found that sildenafil is “the first drug shown to increase exercise capacity during severe hypoxia both at sea level and at high altitude.”

Unlike in the low-altitude portion of the study (when acute hypoxia was intentionally induced) when the participants took sildenafil at Everest Base Camp it didn’t really increase arterial oxygen saturation, neither during rest nor exercise. It did, however, reduce pulmonary artery pressure overall, and also boosted maximum workload and cardiac output.

While this all might seem kind of crazy, when you really think about it, sildenafil helps men achieve erections by dilating veins and arteries leading to the penis… so it’s not that surprising that it also works to dilate blood vessels in the lungs of men and women at high altitudes.

Dr. Hossein A. Ghofrani, assistant professor at Germany’s University of Giessen and research team co-leader, told the Los Angeles Times that although the effects on workload and cardiac output at high elevations are noticeable, he doesn’t think sildenafil would “improve lung function in healthy athletes in normal conditions (sea level), because their lung and blood vessels are dilated already, and dilate more with exercise.”

So, you won’t catch me popping Viagra at your local rock gym… yet.

The news isn’t all rosy, of course. Among other possible side effects, Viagra does seem to make high altitude headaches worse.

Still, I can’t figure out why more people haven’t been talking about this. That said, it appears at least a few folks are aware of Viagra’s benefits, since the office of former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (later impeached and convicted on corruption charges) reportedly purchased over 300 Viagra pills to treat “altitude sickness” a few years back.

Is the Viagra cover up yet another conspiracy by Deep State elites to prevent the average climber from achieving their full potential, both in the bed and on the wall?

We can’t say for sure, but please stay tuned for more groundbreaking climbing news coverage, right here at Rock and Ice.


 

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Michael Browder
Michael Browder
18 days ago

We used this in high altitude research in 2008–the purposes were threefold: prophylactic, ergonomic aid, and aid in treatment. It was already very well known in Europe for high altitude use. For example, my personal physician, a mountain medicine/sports medicine doctor, prescribed and prescribes it often. American medical gurus–you know who they are–poopooed all the “research” as not meeting gold standard research, so basically not research at all.

Eddie Savitz
Eddie Savitz
16 days ago

It’ll make self-arrest easier.

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