Keeping you current

Another Use for Viagra: Curing Hamster Jet Lag

It works—but only for hamsters (and maybe people) traveling east

Researchers discovered the effect in hamsters while trying to find a cure for jet lag in people. (gemenacom/iStock)
smithsonian.com

Viagra has been around for 19 years. It was approved by the FDA on this day in 1998, and since then a number of uses have been found for the drug, whose active ingredient is sildenafil. Among them: helping cut flowers survive for longer, treating blood pressure issues and curing jet lag in hamsters.

Researchers Patricia Agostino, Santiago Plano and Diego Golombek all shared an Ig Nobel Prize for their discovery. The effect has not been tested in humans, but the researchers note that in theory, it should work. The dosage required to cure jet lag in people would likely be much lower than that required to treat erectile dysfunction.

The researchers experimented on hamsters who were used to a 14-hour day and 10-hour dark cycle, injecting some with a small amount of Viagra while leaving others as usual. Hamsters are nocturnal, so they were more active at night, running on their wheels. The researchers monitored wheel running as they caused the hamsters to experience a six-hour “time shift” by switching the lights back on early.

“The abrupt shift left many of the rodents disoriented and ‘jet-lagged,’” writes Roxanne Khamsi for New Scientist. “Their body clocks failed to immediately adjust, so that even when the lights went out, they steered clear of their running wheels.”   

The researchers found that the hamsters who received Viagra took eight days to adjust and starting wheel-running regularly, while those who didn’t took 12 days. They believe it happened because the drug raises levels of a molecule called cyclic guanosine monophosphate in the body. This molecule helps treat erectile dysfunction by expanding blood vessels. But another function of cGMP is to speed up the body’s internal clock, Golombek explained, which is why it helped the hamsters to adjust faster.

Jet lag happens when humans (or hamsters) cross multiple time zones, interrupting their body’s sleep rhythm. Conventional wisdom holds that recovering from jet lag takes about a day for each time zone crossed. For those going on a week-long vacation, that can be a big interruption. Numerous studies have tried to figure out how to “cure” jet lag, but at the moment, only palliatives exist and for the most part people just have to tough it out.  

It’s harder to recover from jet lag when flying east, which is the equivalent of losing time. Fortunately for any hamsters who might find themselves on the red-eye from New York to London, that’s the direction that the researchers found their drug worked in. “Viagra offers no jet lag protection for hamsters when their period of light exposure is adjusted to begin after the normal time,” Khamsi wrote.

So much for that all-expenses-paid trip to the Habitrail timeshare in Maui.

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance journalist based in Toronto who focuses on technology, culture and ethics. She recently graduated from the master’s program in journalism at Ryerson University, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

Read more from this author |
Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus