Researchers at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Buenos Aires found that the famous 'little blue pill' (Viagra) had an interesting side benefit. They found that it could help speed up recovery from jet lag… for hamsters! Although it is not conclusive, it provides a good indication of the potential additional benefits this treatment may have on many men.

So how can a tablet that treats erectile dysfunction help relieve the symptoms of Jet Lag? It is best to understand how jet lag works.

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Effects of Jet Lag

Jet lag can occur when you cross one or more time zones when you're travelling. The sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, is controlled by the brain's master clock. This clock controls the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate the body's functions.

Jet lag happens when the time in your new destination is out of sync with your body's internal clock. The scientific medical term for this disorder is desynchronosis and it can take a few days for your body to adjust to its new time zone and during this period, your normal body processes can be disrupted.

The most common symptoms of jet lag are:

  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia
  • Excessive tiredness and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Bowel problems such as constipation or diarrhoea

But, chronic jet lag, can also have more far-reaching negative health implications and has been linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even increased tumour growth.

The further you travel and the more time zones you cross, the greater your symptoms will be and the more difficult it is for your body to sync its circadian rhythm to your new time zone. In fact, it's estimated that it can take up to a day to adjust to each time zone crossed.

The symptoms can be even more pronounced when you're travelling eastwards. This is because you find yourself trying to get to sleep when your body thinks it's time to wake up. And, you're attempting to wake up when it feels like the middle of the night to your body. Generally, our bodies are better able to cope with a very long day, than a very short one. According to Skyscanner, this is why "West is Best, East is a Beast."

Effects of Viagra on Jet Lag

One of the enzymes that plays a role in regulating this body clock is an enzyme called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). This also happens to be the enzyme that allows blood flow to the penile tissue when sexually aroused. Viagra (Sildenafil) works by increasing the levels of the enzyme cGMP, by blocking and inhibiting the actions of another enzyme PDE5, whose function is to break down cGMP.

By inhibiting its breakdown, it allows for increased levels of cGMP in the body. For erectile dysfunction sufferers, this allows more blood flow to the penis. For those with Jetlag, the increased level of cGMP could help speed up the body clock.

Viagra and Jet Lag

The researchers in Buenos Aries found that, when injecting hamsters with Viagra (sildenafil), those injected adapted faster to changes in light. They started by injecting them at night with an intermediate dose of Viagra and then switched bright lights on six hours early to simulate what it would be like travelling eastwards.

The hamsters that were given Viagra adapted 50% faster than those given a placebo. These promising results suggest that it could offer a way to help speed up the rate at which the body clock adjusts, and could reduce or shorten the effects of jet lag.

Golombek, who conducted the experiments, also found that hamsters treated with Viagra were found to have twice as much cGMP as those on the placebo, in the area of the brain that controls circadian rhythms. However, they also found that these effects only worked, when combined with the light therapy, outlined above, and only worked when travelling from west-east, not east to west.

Despite only working in one direction, it could still be of tremendous benefit in alleviating the symptoms of jetlag – as generally jetlag is more severe when travelling eastwards anyway. And, while the research hasn't yet been formally carried out with humans, it hasn't stopped some people trying. A Skyscanner survey of 1,000 travellers found that 11% had tried Viagra to alleviate symptoms of jet lag and nearly half claimed it worked.

Is it safe to take Viagra for Jet lag?

Viagra's impact on jet lag has not yet been tested on humans and it has not been officially approved for this use. As with any prescription medication, it can have certain adverse effects and should be taken as prescribed. It's not suitable for individuals on certain medications or with certain underlying health conditions.

At the moment Viagra is only available on prescription for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, so would not be available solely for the use of treating jet lag. Alternatively there are proven treatments such as the Jet Lag treatment pack.