A study done by Canadian researchers showed that the anti-impotence pills, including Viagra and Levitra, could protect the hearts of those children with a common form of muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is an inherited wasting disease that begins in the legs and pelvis, and later affects the whole body, including the heart. It is characterized by weakness and progressive degeneration of the muscles and most of the patients end up in wheelchairs by the age 12. Duchenne muscular dystrophy occurs from a genetic mutation of dystrophin, a protein crucial to muscle cells. Heart problem usually occur at the age 10 but they progress quickly, affecting most people with the disease by age 20. These heart problems are more than often the cause of death among patients with muscular dystrophy.

Canadian researchers experimented with sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They gave the drug to mice with an animal version of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and found that it had improved their heart performance. The given doses were equivalent to those used for treating erectile dysfunction in men. The study found that the drug cut the levels of damage to contracting heart muscle cells and that it could be useful in preventing or at least delaying heart failure in children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The drug improved the heart performance in the mice by preventing the breakdown of a naturally occurring chemical called cyclic guanosine monophosphate, or cGMP that is involved in a number of cellular signaling pathways. Other impotence drugs were also found to affect the chemical cGMP, including vardenafil, sold under the brand name Levitra and Cialis.

Many studies have shown that these drugs were safe in adults but future human clinical trials are needed before prescribing it for heart trouble in younger patients.