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Erectile Dysfunction and Your Heart
Written By : Mark Rosenberg, MD 
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Many of my over-40 male patients come to me with a similar complaint - they cannot achieve an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Their love life is lacking, they're unhappy and they're feeling inadequate. To complicate matters more, their heart health may be at risk!

As I tell my patients, erectile dysfunction (ED) can have a number of causes, ranging from the physical to the psychological. However, did you know that vascular disease accounts for 50-60% of ED cases in men over 40? In fact, ED can be an early warning sign of heart disease!

The Heart/ED Connection

Let me explain how ED and your heart are related. First, ED is caused by a lack of blood flow into the penis. If there is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, not enough blood gets into your heart, or the rest of your body, including the penis.

This lack of blood flow into your heart can result in coronary heart disease (CHD) and increase your risk for a heart attack. You may not know if you have atherosclerosis. Experiencing ED, then, could be the first sign of it and, possibly, that your arteries, and heart, may be in trouble.

There are several risk factors for developing atherosclerosis:

High cholesterol - from high saturated fat diets. Builds up plaque in arteries which hardens causing atherosclerosis. Blockages and decreased blood flow can result which can lead to hypertension and the risk for heart attack and stroke.

High blood pressure/hypertension - follows from clogged and hardened arteries. It takes more force to push blood through these blockages and raises your blood pressure. This increases your risk of circulation problems, stroke, and heart attack.

Diabetes - can damage blood vessels and the nerve endings inside them. This can lead to decreased blood flow to the penis, legs, and feet. Nearly 60% of men with diabetes, type 1 or 2, will experience ED.

Smoking - contributes to damage of blood vessels. Toxins in cigarettes cause inflammation and scarring within arteries. This scar tissue can become plaques that decrease blood flow to the body. They can also break off as clots that block blood flow.

Talk To Your Doctor About ED

You've likely seen that commercial on television about the guy having a conversation with himself trying to get up the nerve to talk to his doctor about "our little problem", which is ED.

The most important thing I would like to stress to you if you are experiencing erection difficulty, is to, by all means, have that talk with your doctor as soon as possible! Your doctor will be able to determine if your ED is vascular in origin which is the most common cause of it.

They can do the necessary heart evaluation tests like EKG, perhaps a cardiac ultrasound, or angiogram, to determine if you have any arterial blockages and/or diminished blood flow.

They will also do some blood tests for cholesterol and blood sugar levels to determine if perhaps you have high cholesterol and/or diabetes. They will also likely test your CRP and homocysteine levels to determine if you have blood markers for inflammation which are risks for heart disease.

Helping ED Naturally

Once your doctor has determined if the cause of your erectile dysfunction is vascular, there are several natural-based things you can do to improve your ED. It will also improve your overall heart and vascular health. Here's what I suggest to my patients:

Eat a heart healthy diet - limit saturated fats to 7% of your daily fat intake. Include 6-8 fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and an adequate amount of good quality protein largely from plant sources and a small amount from animal sources.

Limit - sugar, alcohol. These can weaken vascular strength.

Drink Water - as you get older, dehydration can occur which can impair blood flow. Drink half your weight in water per day. If you weigh 200 lbs, drink 100 oz of water.

Important vitamins/minerals/herbs - support vascular strength, arterial blood flow and banish inflammation. Daily: Vitamin C 1,000 mg, Omega-3 fish oils 1,000 mg, Vitamin E 400 IU, Selenium 200 mcg, Zinc 30 mg. Gingko biloba and horse chestnut.

Exercise - regular aerobic exercise decreases arterial inflammation and improves cardiovascular strength health. It also helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels which contribute to atherosclerosis. Get your doctor's okay before starting.

As I tell my patients, erectile dysfunction can be a frustrating and depressing experience for a man. However, try to look at it as your body doing you a favor. It can alert you to possible heart and vascular problems you didn't know that you had.

The sooner you seek medical attention for the cause of your ED, the earlier you may find a beginning heart and/or vascular problem that could just save your life!

Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging

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