Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted September 14, 2011

Published in Health

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Erectile dysfunction and diet

Read More: cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, erectile dysfunction, meat, plant-based diet, sexual function, stroke

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One of my more risqué videos, today's video-of-the-day Rosy Glow, touches on the relationship between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Arteries are arteries, whether they're supplying blood to the heart or to other vital organs. And hardened arteries can lead to a softened penis.

Reviews published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggest that sexual problems can lead to a broken heart in more ways than one. Dong et al.'s "Erectile Dysfunction and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease" suggests that the presence of ED "significantly increases the risk of CVD, coronary heart disease, stroke, and all-cause mortality." Other studies published this year also found more severe heart disease and twice the expected cardiac death rate in men with erectile difficulties.

Because penile arteries may be half the diameter of coronary arteries, atherosclerosis often affects the penis first. For this reason, erectile dysfunction is considered a heart disease canary in the coal mine--even dubbed by doctors "penile angina." The official Princeton Consensus Conference guidelines recommend that all patients with ED undergo cardiovascular testing. (And that's a sizable portion of the population; according to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, the majority of men over 40 eating the Standard American Diet have some degree of erectile dysfunction.)

In this way, impotence could save a man's life. Such a warning sign could provide the motivation for lifestyle changes needed to reverse vascular disease and prevent a fatal heart attack or stroke. As a review last month in the American Journal of Cardiology concluded:

"Motivating patients to change well-established, long-term poor lifestyle habits is extremely difficult. Preventing cardiovascular sequelae such as myocardial infarction or stroke are relatively distant benefits, whereas barbecued ribs, cheesecake, or a favorite television program promises almost instant gratification. Prevention or improvement of ED should be a more immediate motivator that physicians can use to improve their patients' lifestyle and in turn their overall cardiovascular health."

Eating a plant-based diet should add not just years to our life, but life to our years.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

P.S. Based on another new paper, I have a video queued up on cholesterol and female sexual dysfunction as well--stay tuned!