Erectile Dysfunction May Be Preventable with Healthy Lifestyle Modifications

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Maintaining optimal vascular health through positive lifestyle habits not only can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke, it may also help men with erectile dysfunction (ED) improve sexual function. Managing risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and obesity can also help make ED drugs more effective, finds a study published most recent issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Eat Right, Exercise, and Manage Health Problems to Improve Sexual Function

“Erectile dysfunction shares modifiable risk factors with atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease,” writes author Bhanu P. Gupta MD of the Mayo Clinic. “All arteries are connected, adds Dr. Stephen Kopecky. “We know that the risk factors for stroke are the same as for heart disease. We know that the risk factors for ED are the same as for heart disease. And we are finding that the risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer's are the same as for heart disease.”

Drs. Gupta and Kopecky conducted a meta-analysis of six previous trials consisting of a total of 740 patients from four countries to evaluate the effects of lifestyle intervention and pharmaceutical treatment of cardiovascular risk factors on the severity of ED. Four of the studies focused on lifestyle changes while the remaining two studied the effects of the cholesterol-lowering medication Lipitor.

Overall, men with ED who either made changes such as exercising more and eating healthier or who took medications to control cholesterol or blood pressure were 2.5 times more likely to see improvements in sexual function than those who didn’t make heart healthy changes.

And because the arteries leading to the penis can become damaged, clogged or narrowed about three to five years prior to those vessels that lead to the heart, erectile dysfunction, particularly in younger men, can serve as a warning sign for those who are at greater risk of having a serious cardiovascular event.

“The number of health benefits that accrue to persons with healthy lifestyles continue to increase in number and importance,” add Militza Moreno MD and Thomas A. Pearson MD MPH PhD in an accompanying commentary to the JAMA-published study. “These new associations between healthy lifestyles and reducing incidence of stroke, congestive heart failure, and ED can add additional powerful persuaders."

Men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction symptoms should consider making the following changes, not only for sexual function improvement, but also as a preventative to cardiovascular disease:

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Improve Your Diet
Diets that include lots of fatty and processed food, but very little fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can contribute to decreased blood circulation throughout the body. Oxidative stress, for example, has been linked to insufficient production of nitric oxide, a substance that relaxes and dilates blood vessels. Antioxidants – nutrients found in abundance in fruits and vegetables – destroy free radicals that cause oxidative stress and therefore may help improve erectile dysfunction.

Another nutrient which may be beneficial is niacin, sometimes known as vitamin B3. A small Chinese study found that men with high cholesterol had improvements in erectile function when taking a daily dose of niacin. Niacin also can raise HDL (good) cholesterol while decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Foods rich in niacin include red fishes such as tuna and salmon, fortified cereals, legumes, and seeds. Milk, green leafy vegetables, coffee and tea also provide some of the nutrient.

Research suggests that the best diet for ED is the traditional Mediterranean-style diet, which focuses not only on fresh fruits and vegetables, but also on the heart-healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish.

Exercise Regularly
A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction. Aim for at least 30 minutes daily, three to five times a week, of moderate intensity exercise such as running, swimming or other aerobic activity.

Stop Smoking
Smoking cigarettes can harm blood vessels and curb blood flow to the penis. In addition, nicotine makes blood vessels contract, which can hamper blood flow to the penis.

Maintain a Healthy Weight; Control Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar, and Cholesterol
Being overweight can bring many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, which can cause nerve damage throughout the body. If the diabetes affects the nerves that supply the penis, ED can result. Excess weight can also lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels which can also damage the blood vessels.

Manage Stress
Psychological stress boosts levels of the hormone adrenaline, which makes blood vessels contract. Anything a man can do to ease tension and feel better emotionally is likely to give his sex life a big boost. Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, prayer, or any other stress-reducing technique on a daily basis.

Source references:

  • Gupta B, et al "The effect of lifestyle modification and cardiovascular risk factor reduction on erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis" Arch Intern Med 2011; DOI:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.440.
  • Moreno M, et al "The quality of lifestyle and the quality of life" Arch Intern Med 2011; DOI:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.442.
  • Visioli F, Hagen TM. Antioxidants to enhance fertility: role of eNOS and potential benefits. Pharmacological Research 2011: doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2011.06.021

Updated 3/29/2014

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