Erection: A Dipstick for Your Overall Health

Erection health is a pretty decent indicator of a man’s overall health. Most cases of erectile dysfunction (ED) are due to circulatory issues and as such are related to heart health. In short, what’s good for heart health is good for erection health. 


A few years back, Steven Lamm, M.D., medical director of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center, offered some sage advice for men looking for a handy way to gauge their overall health. In “The Hardness Factor,” one of Dr. Lamm’s top-selling books on consumer health topics, he put it this way: “My message to all men is basic and direct: When you are able to have a hard erection every time, you are generally in the best possible health.”

And by extension, difficulty in getting and keeping an erection or an erection that is less hard and long-lasting than you would like may very well be a sign of underlying health problems that extend well beyond erectile function. Although a fairly accurate barometer of overall health for men of all ages, erection problems can be especially helpful in identifying looming health issues in younger men.

Younger Men Get ED Too

In a recent article posted at, naturopathic doctor Serena McKenzie, medical director of the Northwest Institute for Healthy Sexuality, points out that erectile dysfunction occurs in 26 percent of men under the age of 40. And the early onset of erection problems, particularly those of physiological origin, can be “a critical barometer of underlying maladies that are far more serious,” according to McKenzie.

McKenzie points to research findings that indicate a strong association between sexual function and such long-term chronic diseases as diabetes, heart disease, and prostate problems. The common thread that connects erectile function to many other aspects of men’s health is the vascular system, which is responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood and nutrients throughout the body.

It’s a Blood Flow Problem

Although for years, it was believed that the vast majority of erection problems were psychological in nature, medical professionals now recognize that the primary cause of impotence is insufficient blood flow to the penis. Although psychological factors can cause erectile dysfunction, it is now believed that depression, anxiety, and other such conditions account for only 10 to 20 percent of all ED cases.

While erectile function is a matter of extreme importance to men, it is not generally a matter of life or death. However, seriously reduce blood flow to the heart or brain, and the consequences can be far more serious, even fatal. So it seems that nature or a higher power has given men an early warning system that can help predict when serious health problems may lie ahead.

Erection and overall health

Maintaining a healthy vascular system reduces the likelihood of erection problems, as well as cardiovascular disease.


If you find that you can no longer get and keep an erection long enough for sexual activity, the chances are good that insufficient blood flow to your penis is to blame. And if your penis isn’t getting the blood it needs to function properly, it’s likely that other key organs may not be getting all the blood they need to operate at optimal levels.

A Wake-Up Call

Consider it a wake-up call. As previously mentioned, psychological problems are responsible for some cases of erectile dysfunction, and an even smaller percentage may be due to traumatic injury to the pelvic region. Whatever the case may be, the onset of erection problems should be taken seriously. Talk to your personal physician about the problem and let the doctor run the diagnostic tests necessary to definitively identify the cause of your incipient impotence. The sooner that can be determined, the sooner you — and your doctor — can begin to take steps to treat the problem.

The reason that erection problems almost always show up before other health problems related to compromised blood flow is fairly simple. The arteries that supply the penis are much smaller than those that feed the heart and other major organs of the body. If your arteries are slowly getting clogged up with fatty plaque, it’s hardly surprising that the damage first begins to be seen in areas served by the smaller blood vessels.

You Can Turn Things Around

Men who heed this early warning can save themselves from a world of hurt in terms of future health problems. If they act quickly enough, it’s even possible for them to reverse some of the damage and recover some degree of their lost erectile function. In any case, acting promptly can definitely help them to avoid a possible heart attack or stroke somewhere down the line.

In her overview of the relationship between erectile function and overall health, McKenzie notes that erectile dysfunction and heart disease share a number of risk factors in common. These include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. Because most of these risk factors are tied to lifestyle decisions, behavior modification can go a long way toward reducing the risks of both ED and heart disease.

Erection and overall health

Regular exercise can help to lower you risk of the vascular problems that can lead to impotence and heart disease.


Of the association between erectile dysfunction and other serious health conditions, McKenzie points out that men with ED have a 62 percent increased risk of a heart attack, compared with men who have no erection problems. She also notes that men with erection problems are at risk of developing diabetes 10 to 15 years earlier than men with no signs of ED.

Healthy Lifestyle Decisions

Although getting the cause of your erection problems pinpointed by a doctor is of paramount importance, once you know what’s involved there is much you can do to turn things around by making healthier lifestyle decisions, according to McKenzie. She says that many men are surprised “how much lifestyle changes can significantly reverse erectile loss.” Kicking the smoking habit, steering clearly of fast food and other unhealthy dietary choices, beginning a program of regular physical activity, and shedding those extra pounds can collectively make a big difference in both erectile function and overall health.

Healthy erectile function, writes McKenzie, should be “a lifestyle philosophy,” based on the mounting scientific evidence that the penis is a “dipstick” that can indicate the presence of underlying disease. “Sexual function is a window into a man’s emotional as well as physical health, and when measures are taken to reverse the often multi-factorial causes of sexual concerns, sexual function not only improves, but health flourishes in many other areas as well, including mood, energy, and intimate relationship quality.”

Italian Research Study

Reinforcing much of what McKenzie has to say about the link between ED and the increased risk of more serious disease is an Italian study that was published in the October 2010 issue of the “Journal of Sexual Medicine.” The Italian research team, led by Elisa Bandini, M.D., screened 1,687 men who had been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. The researchers found that men suffering from ED who were also depressed were at a sharply increased risk of developing heart disease.

If you caught your symptoms of erectile dysfunction early enough to turn things around, then your healthy lifestyle decisions have not only allowed you to resume a healthy sex life but may also have prevented more serious health problems. If, however, your erection problems are still a problem, you may want to give one of the popular impotence medications a try. Visit and check out our ED medication guide. You can order prescription ED medications like Viagra online with outstanding convenience and customer service by visiting

Photo credit: naturalhomecures34

Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+