Erectile Dysfunction and Early Death – What’s the Link?

For all men who think ED stands for erectile dysfunction, let’s introduce another possible meaning: early death. According to Michael Gregor, MD, erectile dysfunction and early death go hand in hand, especially for men who begin to experience erectile problems when they are relatively young. In fact, 40 percent of men older than 40 are intimately familiar with this sexual issue, so it may be time to explore the relationship between ED and the possibility of dying before your time.

Erectile dysfunction and early death connection

The relationship between erectile dysfunction and early death has a common factor: vascular disease, or more precisely, coronary artery disease. Men who experience erectile dysfunction should consider it a warning sign of impending heart disease because both conditions involve inflamed and blocked arteries—atherosclerosis–of the penile arteries and coronary arteries. The difference is that the penile arteries are typically affected first since they are narrower than the ones servicing the heart. Therefore, plaque accumulation in the penile arteries will manifest as erectile dysfunction often long before plaque lining the coronary arteries will signal heart disease.

This intimate relationship between constriction of blood flow in the penis and the heart has led some experts to call erectile dysfunction “penile angina.” In fact, doctors can predict the results of a man’s cardiac stress test with an accuracy of 80 percent if they measure the blood flow in his penis.

I mentioned that ED affects a significant percentage of men older than 40, but even younger men should be aware of their eating habits and the risk of high cholesterol since it predicts erectile dysfunction, as well as stroke, heart attack, and a shorter lifespan, in future years. It would be shortsighted to depend on taking ED drugs for erectile challenges when there is a potentially deadly underlying reason for those problems.

Reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction and early death

One effective way to reduce the risk of penile angina, ED, and coronary artery disease is through diet. Researchers have shown that adopting a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and legumes, can help support and promote heart (and penile) health. One study, for example, looked at the impact of this dietary plan on men with metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Half the men followed the diet and half were a control group.

After two years on the Mediterranean diet, those men showed improvements in endothelial function and inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein), while these elements remained unchanged in the control group. In addition, scores on the International Index of Erectile Function were 22 or higher (indicative of no erectile dysfunction) in 13 of the men on the Mediterranean diet but only two in the control group. The authors concluded that following this dietary plan “might be effective per se in reducing the prevalence of ED in men with the metabolic syndrome.”

Read more in our Erectile Dysfunction Health Center.

References

Corona G et al. Penile Doppler ultrasound in patients with erectile dysfunction (ED): Role of peak systolic velocity measured in the flaccid state in predicting arteriogenic ED and silent coronary artery disease. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2008 5(11): 2623-34

Esposito K et al. Mediterranean diet improves erectile function in subjects with the metabolic syndrome. International Journal of Impotence Research 2006; 18(4): 405-10

Fung MM et al. Heart disease risk factors predict erectile dysfunction 25 years later: The Rancho Bernardo Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2004; 43(8): 1405-11

Gregor M. Survival of the firmest: erectile dysfunction and death. 2013 Aug 19

Inman BA et al. A population-based, longitudinal study of erectile dysfunction and future coronary artery disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2009; 84(2): 108-13

Jackson G. Erectile dysfunction and coronary disease: evaluating the link. Maturitas 2012; 72(3): 263-64

Meldrum DR et al. The link between erectile and cardiovascular health: the canary in the coal mine. American Journal of Cardiology 2011; 108(4): 599-606

Montorsi P et al. The artery size hypothesis: a macrovascular link between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. American Journal of Cardiology 2005; 96(12B): 19M-23M

Montorsi P et al. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease. European Urology 2003; 44(3): 360-64

Schwartz BG, Kloner RA. How to save a life during a clinic visit for erectile dysfunction by modifying cardiovascular risk factors. International Journal of Impotence Research 2009; 21(6): 327-35

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