FRIDAY, Aug. 15, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Statins might quickly help reverse erectile dysfunction among men who have metabolic syndrome, new animal research suggests.
A threat to cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome is also known to raise the risk for erectile dysfunction (ED). The current finding indicates that statins may reduce levels of a specific protein that contributes to ED.
"Each condition of metabolic syndrome phenomenon -- high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity -- independently raises the risk for erectile dysfunction just on their own," explained study author Christopher J. Wingard, an associate professor of physiology with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. "And so, when all are present in combination as part of this syndrome, you have a situation where you don't even need to be as diabetic or hypertensive as you might otherwise have to be to experience erectile dysfunction. And that fact has been raising concern among clinicians."
"So, we followed up on case reports and anecdotal evidence that statins being used to lower cholesterol over a six- to eight-week period among patients with metabolic syndrome seemed to also quickly improve erections -- even before cholesterol levels go down," Wingard added. "And in an animal model, we found this to be the case."
Wingard and his colleagues presented their findings recently at the American Urological Association Foundation Summer Research Conference, in Linthicum, Md.
The effort to evaluate the possibility of using statins to treat ED focused on 16- to 20-week-old lean and obese rats, all of whom were given one of three statins on a daily basis for between three to five days.
The researchers then assessed erectile function in the rats. At the same time, they also measured any changes in levels of certain key proteins that they believed could be involved in triggering the onset of ED.
The authors found that the statins were able to quickly relieve some of the vascular constriction associated with metabolic syndrome that can bring about ED.
They further noted that the way in which the statins appeared to have their effect was by inhibiting the expression -- and lowering the levels -- of a particular protein known as Rho-kinase. This protein had previously been cited as a possible culprit in vascular constriction of penile smooth muscle.
Wingard suggested that more research is sure to follow, to explore whether the findings would apply to patients following a long-term regimen of statin treatment.
However, Dr. Arnold Melman, chairman of the department of urology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, described the findings as "very preliminary."
"Statins are used by everyone under the sun, and, as far as I know, there's been no hard evidence that it can be used to treat erectile dysfunction," he said. "On the other hand, it may be that it could prevent or modify some of the other risk factors for erectile dysfunction."
"This is because we do know that an increase in Rho-kinase leads to heightened tone of the corpus smooth muscle, which is one of the causes of erectile dysfunction," Melman noted. "So, while I wouldn't go too far with this, and I would probably not see statins becoming a primary treatment for erectile dysfunction, if these findings turn out to be true, then there could perhaps be an additional good use for statins."
For more on erectile dysfunction, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.