Two recent studies on impotence offer a clearer picture of it connection to heart disease. The bad news is that impotence increases the risk of heart disease. The good news is that the same lifestyle changes that help protect against heart disease also help combat impotence and improve sexual function.
Men with erectile dysfunction had a 48% greater risk of developing heart disease, a 35% greater risk of stroke and a 19% greater risk of death than men without erectile dysfunction.
While many men think that impotence, also called erectile dysfunction or ED, is caused by psychological factors, a series of studies performed over the last decade suggest that for most men, impotence is due to physical causes, most commonly insufficient blood flow. These same studies showed a definite link between impotence and heart disease.
The theory was that penile arteries, which are smaller than the arteries of the heart, begin to narrow first and are an early sign of plaque buildup and blockage of heart arteries further down the road. But this was only a theory. It was well accepted that heart disease was a risk factor for impotence, but unclear whether impotence caused heart disease or was even a risk factor for it.
The study found that men with erectile dysfunction had a 48% greater risk of developing heart disease, a 35% greater risk of stroke and a 19% greater risk of death than men without erectile dysfunction.
The Chinese study was a meta-analysis of the results of 12 other studies published between 2005 and January 2011 that involved nearly 37,000 men. This type of study can often show patterns that aren't obvious from a single study's results. Because the studies were of different lengths, this analysis can't give a time course for the development of heart disease. But it does show that erectile dysfunction is a strong risk factor for future heart disease.
A second recent study from the Mayo Clinic offers more hopeful results. Since impotence and heart disease seem to share common origins, the researchers reasoned that lifestyle modifications that lowered the risk of heart disease would help overcome impotence.
The results backed up this reasoning. On a 25-point scale of erectile problems, men who began to exercise more or switched to a Mediterranean diet showed an improvement of 2.4 points. And those who were put on cholesterol-lowering statins improved by 3.1 points.
An article on the Chinese study appears in the September 20, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
An article on the Mayo Clinic study was published online by Archives of Internal Medicine on September 12, 2011 and will also appear in a future edition of the journal.