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Scientists have known that there is a connection between heart disease and erectile dysfunction for decades. To help explain whether heart disease and impotence have common causes, scientists from University in China examined the results of 12 studies.

Heart Medication Also a Factor

Impotence is an early warning sign of heart disease. And treatment for heart disease can cause impotence.

Medical scientists have known that there is a connection between heart disease and erectile dysfunction for decades. Some scientists believe that the blood vessels in the corpora cavernosa, a "cavern" of blood vessels that fill with blood to enable erection, can become clogged with cholesterol before cholesterol clogs the arteries that emerge from the heart. To help explain whether heart disease and impotence have common causes, Dr. Jia-Yi Dong of Soochow University in China and colleagues examined the results of 12 studies of impotence and heart disease involving 36, 744 men.

Some of the medications that can interfere with erectile strength include:

  • ACE-inhibitors (blood pressure medications with names ending in -il, such as lisinopril and ramipril), because they interfere with the action of one of the factors that is involved in penil contraction.
  • Antihistamines, especially the older-style antihistamines that can also make you sleepy.
  • Antidepressants, especially Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox, and Effexor.
  • Beta-blockers for high blood pressure, uncontrolled sweating, or fine muscle tremors.
  • Cancer treatments, especially hormones for prostate cancer.
  • Nitrates for heart disease (as well as poppers for enhancing receptive sexual intercourse) can make the blood vessels in the penis so relaxed that erection cannot occur.

And it is only commonsensical to realize that there are various life issues that can occur with both impotence and heart disease.

Stress reduces erectile strength. Taking drugs to prevent early death from a heart attack is a major source of stress.

Children of any age can interfere with erectile function, especially if they wander into the bedroom at the wrong time.

Alcohol can reduce erectile strength—and too much alcohol can discourage your sexual partner from having relations with you.

Not getting enough sleep reduces erectile strength. Especially when the cause of sleep deprivation is the condition of intermittent nighttime breathlessness known as sleep apnea, not getting enough sleep can be associated with both high blood pressure and inability to have or to maintain an erection. The relationship between apnea and erectile dysfunction is so well known that most doctors treating middle-aged and older men for erectile dysfunction will recommend overnight screening for sleep apnea, provided insurance pays for it.

Marijuana has paradoxical effects on impotence. Right after taking a puff of marijuana, one of the chemicals in the weed reduces erectile strength, but a few hours later, another of the chemicals in marijuana increases it. (This is not a recommendation for you to use marijuana as a treatment for ED. There are other considerations beyond just marijuana's effect on sexual prowess.)

Poor body image can reduce erectile strength—especially if every time you go to the doctor you are told that you are fat.

Low testosterone levels can reduce erectile strength, although the best ways to increase them are by losing weight, especially fat on the buttocks (which makes estrogen), or by taking safe supplements that conserve the body's testosterone, such as chrysin.

While there seems to be a greater risk of cardiovascular disease in men who have problems with impotence, the simple fact is, cardiovascular disease is something men are likely to get anyway. The fact that they are impotent only raises overall risk a few percent. Rather than fretting about the possibility that you are even more likely than you thought your were to have a heart attack or stroke, why not find solutions for both problems, so you can enjoy your life while living longer?

  • Jia-Yi Dong, Yong-Hong Zhang, and Li-Qiang Qin. Erectile Dysfunction and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol., September 20, 2011, 58: 1378 - 1385.
  • Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks on Flickr: