Great news! Caffeine in responsible amounts won’t hurt erection health, and may be helpful to otherwise-healthy men.
Maybe Starbucks should rethink their advertising strategy.
Erectile dysfunction affects tens of millions of American men, and the effects can carry over to life outside the bedroom. Men who have chronic problems with their erections may find their self-confidence flagging and stress levels rising. Relationships can suffer as well.
Problems with erections are usually caused by the physical problem of insufficient blood flow to the penis. Blood flow can be compromised by high blood pressure, carrying around excess weight, diabetes and high cholesterol. In some cases there is a psychological component to erectile dysfunction, but for most men the problem is a matter of blood flow.
Countless factors can affect the quality of erections, including the ones mentioned above. Diet and exercise play a role too. And now a new study has found that men who consume caffeine tend to have a lower incidence of problems with erections.
Caffeine and Erectile Dysfunction: An Inverse Correlation?
The study, by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, found that men who drink the caffeine equivalent of two or three cups of coffee per day are less likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who consume less caffeine or no caffeine. Specifically, men who consumed roughly 85 to 170 mg of caffeine per day were 42% less likely to report problems with erections compared to those who consumed zero to seven milligrams of caffeine per day. Men who consumed approximately 171 to 303 mg of caffeine per day had a 39% lower incidence of erectile dysfunction compared with those who consumed little or no caffeine.
Lead study author David Lopez states that the study’s findings are an association, and do not necessarily indicate cause and effect. Therefore, it would be premature for doctors to recommend that men who don’t consume much caffeine increase their intake. Further studies will be needed to tease apart all the variables that go along with caffeine consumption and healthy erections.
How Might Caffeine Help?
It’s too early to state for certain how caffeine could affect erections, but one theory is that caffeine causes the smooth muscle tissue in the penis to relax and allow increased blood flow to the area and hence, better erection functioning.
Another possibility is that caffeine can help small blood vessels, like the ones in the penis, to work better. A study of blood flow to a finger in healthy adults found that drinking a cup of coffee significantly improved blood flow, indicating better function of the inner lining of the body’s smaller blood vessels. In this case, those who drank a cup of coffee had a 30% increase in blood flow to a finger over a period of 75 minutes compared to people who drank decaf. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew whether they were drinking regular coffee or decaf.
Cardiology researchers are intrigued by the association between caffeine consumption and circulation. Earlier studies have shown that drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke, and that high caffeine doses can improve the function of larger arteries. Cardiologists have long known that erectile dysfunction can be an early sign of heart disease, and the caffeine studies seem to go along with that association.
Caffeine Appears to Benefit Overweight Men and Men with High Blood Pressure
One of the more exciting aspects of the Texas study was that the seemingly lower risk of problems with erections held not only for men of normal weight, but for overweight and obese men too. It also held true for men with high blood pressure. This is particularly interesting because men who are overweight or obese or who have high blood pressure are at increased risk for erectile dysfunction. If the caffeine studies are fleshed out more, it may be possible to learn precisely what caffeine does that reduces risk of problems with erections in men who have other risk factors for erectile dysfunction.
Diabetic Men Appear Not to Get ED Relief from Caffeine
The one group of men in the study who did not appear to benefit from caffeine consumption were men with diabetes. Diabetes compromises blood circulation in small blood vessels, but it appears to affect these blood vessels in a different way than high blood pressure and other circulatory issues do. The good news is that men with diabetes can significantly improve the quality of their erections by keeping their blood glucose levels under tight control, losing excess weight, and exercising regularly (as can non-diabetic men). And of course there are several prescription medications such as Viagra that specifically improve blood circulation to the penis, and diabetic men can benefit from these drugs too, as long as the drugs are taken under medical supervision.
Caffeine Study Bolsters Other Advice About Treating Erectile Dysfunction
Doctors often recommend a range of lifestyle changes that can help men who have erectile dysfunction, whether they take drugs for the condition or not. Better erections can be just the right incentive for men to finally quit smoking, eat healthier, exercise regularly, avoid binge drinking, and keep blood pressure under control. Should doctors pursue further research on the link between caffeine consumption and erection quality, caffeine could eventually be included in the type of lifestyle changes recommended for men with erection problems.
The precise nature of the correlation between caffeine and lower risk of erectile dysfunction needs to be better quantified, however. The Texas study was a small one, and the men who drank a moderate amount of caffeine fared better in terms of erections than men who consumed a lot of caffeine, so there may be an optimal caffeine intake level for erection health. We just don’t know yet.
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