Erection problems (known as erectile dysfunction, or ED) and cardiovascular disease often occur together. Clogging of arteries by cholesterol-laden plaque and damage to the inner lining of blood vessels from high blood pressure contribute to both conditions.
It would make sense, then, that treating heart disease risk factors with cholesterol-lowering statins and lifestyle changes — such as exercise, smoking cessation, and weight control — might help men with their erections.
A few clinical trials with small numbers of people have supported that hypothesis. But findings from larger numbers of people are more convincing. So Mayo Clinic doctors pooled the results of six separate studies looking at this relationship. The studies, involving a total of 740 men, were conducted from 2004 to 2010 and followed participants for time periods ranging from 12 weeks to two years.
Analysis revealed that when men who have or are at risk for heart disease make lifestyle changes or take a statin, or both, their ability to achieve and maintain an erection improves. And those improvements add to any benefits men might get by taking ED drugs such as Viagra.
Men who addressed their heart disease risk factors with both lifestyle changes and a statin scored an average of 2.7 points higher on a standard 5-to-25-point scale of erectile function. When researchers looked at men who made lifestyle changes alone, scores improved by 2.4 points, and when they analyzed the effects of statins separately, scores improved by 3.1 points. These improvements might seem small, but they’re enough to help a man with mild ED.
Erection problems usually crop up in men two to three years before the first sign of heart disease — which is often chest pain during exertion — and three to five years before a more serious cardiovascular setback such as a heart attack. So if you see your doctor because of ED, ask him or her to look into your heart health, too. By doing so, you could help your ticker and your sex life at the same time.