The Link Between Erectile Dysfunction and Heart DiseaseIn his best-selling book “The Hardness Factor,” Steven Lamm, M.D., writes that the hardness of a man’s erection is perhaps the best barometer of his overall health. “When hardness wavers,” writes Dr. Lamm, “it is often the earliest sign of compromised health and a diminution of quality of life.”
Others have described this link a bit differently, suggesting that what’s good for the penis is good for the heart, and vice-versa. After all, most erectile dysfunction is caused by insufficient blood flow to the penis, which like the body’s other vital organs depends on a strong and steady supply of oxygen-rich blood to function at optimal levels.
Could Be Early Warning
While the onset of erection problems is hardly a welcome development, it can provide an early warning that more serious heart problems might lie ahead. For that reason, many medical professionals will recommend a comprehensive cardiac checkup for their male patients who have been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction.
Because the blood vessels that supply the penis are relatively tiny when compared with those that carry blood to the heart, symptoms of erectile dysfunction almost always appear well in advance of heart problems. The same factors responsible for diminishing blood flow to the penis are likely in time to affect the blood vessels that supply the heart, possibly leading to a heart attack.
‘Window of Curability’
In an interview with MedicalDaily.com, Michael Eisenberg, M.D., director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, said that erectile dysfunction usually shows up three to four years before heart disease. “So sometimes when I see men I tell them that it’s a warning sign, that you should be evaluated and make sure you talk to your primary doctor because this may be a sort of window of curability where we can really catch things early so you don’t have a heart attack.”
Dr. Eisenberg points out that men presenting with symptoms of erectile dysfunction often have no idea that they are also suffering from health conditions that very likely will lead to heart disease over time. He estimates that in 30 to 40 percent of ED diagnoses, the men are unaware that their blood cholesterol levels are at dangerously elevated levels and should be treated to prevent further damage. And, says Dr. Eisenberg, roughly 10 to 20 percent of men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction are unaware that they are suffering from blood pressure that is dangerously high and requires treatment.
Is It Atherosclerosis?
Until relatively recently, the major culprit behind the vascular problems involved in both erectile dysfunction and heart health was thought to be atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaques on artery walls. While it certainly remains a factor in both ED and heart disease, atherosclerosis is no longer seen as the leading cause of these health problems.
Rather, it seems that the primary troublemaker is more often something known as endothelial dysfunction, according to MayoClinic.org. The endothelium is the thin layer of squamous cells that line the walls of both blood and lymphatic vessels in the body. “Endothelial dysfunction causes inadequate blood supply to the heart and impaired blood flow to the penis, and aids in the development of atherosclerosis,” says MayoClinic.org.
Causes of Endothelial Dysfunction
Endothelial dysfunction results in a constriction of the blood vessels, which is bad for all the vital organs that depend on strong blood flow to function at their best. And what causes endothelial dysfunction? All those things you’ve been warned are bad for your health, such as smoking, too much cholesterol in your diet, excess weight, poorly controlled blood sugar levels, excessive alcohol consumption, and blood pressure that’s out of control.
For those who heed the health warnings implicit in symptoms of erectile dysfunction, the good news is that the earlier you tackle the problem the greater your chance of regaining normal erectile function and avoiding more serious health problems in the future. This means that making the necessary lifestyle changes and getting underlying health problems treated can possibly head off a heart attack or angina.
Among the lifestyle changes and other preventive measures that can help halt or even reverse vascular damage associated with both heart disease and ED, the following steps are easily adopted. However, consult with your primary physician before making any radical changes in lifestyle so that together you can decide what course of action is best and least stressful for you.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: A well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and only modest servings of red meat is a good way to begin. Fish, particularly oily, fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna, should be incorporated into your diet if at all possible. Choose healthier whole grains over refined grains whenever possible. Avoid fast foods, which are loaded with excessive levels of fats and empty calories.
Begin or Expand Your Exercise Routine: A regular exercise program can help undo some vascular damage and prevent additional problems from developing. If you are not already exercising, it’s critically important that you check with your doctor before beginning. He can advise on the types and duration of exercise that are most suitable for you. Generally speaking, aerobic exercise is best, because it conditions your body to pump blood more strongly and efficiently. If you have led a fairly sedentary existence up to now, you may be able to start slow by taking 30-minute walks three to five times a week. Gradually you can pick up the pace of your walk to get the blood pumping more robustly.
Quit Smoking: Smokers should kick the habit as soon as possible to reduce the vascular damage this nasty habit can cause. If you have never smoked, resist any temptation to give it a try. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which can make it more difficult to get and keep an erection. It can also lead to heart disease.
Go Easy on the Alcohol: While there is no doubt that a drink or two can help to set the mood for romance, drinking more than that is likely to cause problems. As Massachusetts urologist Nelson E. Bennett, M.D., tells EverydayHealth.com, “Too much alcohol is poison to your body and to your erection.” Dr. Bennett points out that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can in excess depress your erection.
Shed Those Extra Pounds: Carrying around too much weight sharply increases your risk of vascular problems that can lead to both erectile dysfunction and heart disease. If you need to lose weight, do it sensibly, preferably under the guidance of your doctor. Avoid fad diets that promise quick weight loss as they may be hazardous for your health.
Treat Related Health Problems: Many of the lifestyle recommendations listed here will help you to deal with related health problems such as high cholesterol or hypertension. However, it’s critical that you work with your doctor to treat these underlying medical conditions to minimize their effect on both your cardiac and erectile health.
If these lifestyle changes are not enough to reverse your symptoms of erectile dysfunction, you might want to consider trying one of the popular impotence medications now on the market. Visit eDrugstore.com, a reliable online drugstore based in the United States, and check out our offerings for the treatment of male impotence.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.