Erectile Dysfunction and Cholesterol: 7 Facts You Need to Know
Lowering your blood levels of cholesterol, particularly low-density lipoproteins or “bad cholesterol,” can improve both cardiac and erectile function. Here’s what every man should know about the ill effects of elevated cholesterol levels.
A healthy heart and a healthy erections go together. Your cholesterol levels can affect the quality of your erections.
Most cases of erectile dysfunction (ED) are caused by impaired blood flow to the penis. The medications that treat ED, like Viagra, allow the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels to relax, so that blood can flow more easily. When a man has high cholesterol levels, not only is cardiac circulation impaired, blood flow throughout the body is impaired, and this can affect erection quality.
In fact, many doctors consider ED to be a sort of “canary in the coal mine” signal in men under 40 and may suggest cardiac tests to determine if a young man with ED is at risk for, or in the early stages of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is more treatable the earlier it’s caught. Here are seven facts you should know about ED and cholesterol.
1. High Serum Cholesterol Linked to ED
Has anyone actually studied a link between high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction? Yes, several researchers have found a correlation between high cholesterol levels and ED, and have known about the correlation for many years. Additionally, men who have high blood pressure are at an increased risk of erectile dysfunction.
When cholesterol levels are too high, a process called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) happens. Levels of so-called “bad cholesterol,” or LDL, play an important role because LDL is the raw material that creates plaques along the insides of arteries. Just as gunk buildup on the wall of a pipe restricts flow through it, plaque buildup on the inside of your arteries restricts blood flow. Though cardiologists are most concerned about atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the process affects all arteries, including those leading to the penis.
2. Statins May Help Erectile Function
If a man has high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction, will treating the high cholesterol help with erectile function? It very well may. Statins are drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. Statins work by blocking compounds the body needs for making cholesterol.
What’s more, statins help reabsorb cholesterol in plaques on artery walls, preventing further blockage and improving circulation.
In a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled clinical trials on erectile dysfunction and statins, doctors found that not only did statins improve cardiovascular health, lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack, they also improved erectile function. Study author Dr. John B. Kostis concluded, “Statin therapy has been proven to provide long-term benefits in reducing cardiovascular disease and the detrimental consequences associated with it. Offering statin therapy to improve erectile function may extend these benefits further.”
3. Statins Are Not for Everyone
While the improvement of erectile function in men taking statins is encouraging, it doesn’t mean that men with normal cholesterol should take statins in hope of enhancing erectile function. That would be like a person with 20/20 vision hoping to improve it by wearing someone else’s glasses. Men without symptoms of cardiovascular disease, or whose erectile dysfunction may have psychological components should not take statins.
Statins are great at lowering cholesterol, but they do have potential side effects that can be serious, such as liver damage, increased blood sugar, and neurological side effects. They also raise the risk of acute kidney injury requiring hospitalization, so they shouldn’t be prescribed unless they’re indicated for someone with high cholesterol levels.
4. Some Medications Can Exacerbate ED
If statins for high cholesterol can help with erectile dysfunction, can other drugs for cardiovascular conditions help too? Not necessarily. For example, erectile dysfunction is more common in men who have high blood pressure. What’s more, many of the drugs that treat high blood pressure, including beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, can also worsen ED.
In fact, a number of medications taken by men with cardiac issues can worsen ED, including diuretics, antiarrhythmics, and even ordinary nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like Advil). The bottom line is you should take heart drugs as recommended by your doctor, and if they worsen erection problems, discuss possible remedies (like Viagra) with your doctor. Many men with heart disease (as long as they don’t take nitrates) are able to safely take medications designed to treat ED.
5. Triglycerides and Erectile Health
High triglyceride levels are associated with erectile dysfunction too. Men with high cholesterol often have high triglyceride levels, as do men with what is known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that predict heart disease, and it is also associated with erectile dysfunction.
High triglycerides are considered part of metabolic syndrome, which is largely attributed to poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight – three factors that also increase the risk of erectile dysfunction. The bottom line is lifestyle practices that negatively affect the heart tend to also negatively affect erectile health.
6. Lifestyle Changes Can Help
If you make the effort to change your lifestyle habits to lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease, not only will your doctor be pleased, your sex life could improve as well. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and giving up smoking will help any medications you’re prescribed (for cholesterol or ED) work better. In fact, in men where the early cardiovascular disease is connected to ED, lifestyle changes are some of the best steps you can take, whether or not you take medications for ED.
7. Heart, Erectile Health Closely Linked
Ultimately, what’s good for cardiovascular health is also good for erectile health. A healthy heart and strong erections depend upon the good circulation and a lack of cholesterol gumming up the works. For men with high cholesterol, statins may improve erectile function while bringing down cholesterol levels. Additionally, the type of lifestyle that contributes to a healthy heart also contributes to healthy erections.
Young men experiencing erectile dysfunction have every reason to speak with a doctor about not only treating the ED but evaluating cardiac risk factors as well. When the cardiac disease is discovered early, it’s easier to treat, so the quality of your erections could provide clues to how healthy your heart is.
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