There is a common problem that men are hesitant to discuss with their doctor. At times, they are very indirect when bringing up this issue. One patient put it this way to me: “Doc, have you ever tried shooting pool with a rope?” Recently, I asked a woman patient what was new in her life and she answered, “Ed has come to visit our home.” Not knowing exactly what she meant by this, I asked, “Who is Ed?” “E.D. (erectile dysfunction),” she answered.
ED sure does get around. He visits 50 percent of men over 60 years old. Why is that? It usually has to do with a problem of supply and demand: the blood vessels that supply the penis cannot meet the demand required to achieve and maintain an erection. These arteries are plugged with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), caused by eating the standard American diet. Besides interfering with the ability to have intercourse, ED is a strong marker for heart disease. This is because the arteries that supply the penis are close to the same size as the arteries that supply the heart. So, if you have ED you also have CAD (coronary artery disease).
What’s a guy to do when ED comes to visit his house? Well, he could simply take a pill like they tell you on TV. These can be effective, but are not without side effects, including visual disturbances. These drugs work by raising the level of a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a gas that causes blood vessels to expand, thus leading to increased blood flow.
On the other hand, one could achieve the same effect in a more “natural” fashion. Regular exercise and a healthy, plant-based diet have been shown to decrease the likelihood of ED and also reverse ED. Green, leafy vegetables can raise the body’s levels of nitric oxide. A recent Italian study followed men with ED for two years after the institution of intensive lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. By the end of the study, ED had left the homes of 60 percent of the men.
So it turns out that what is good for the heart is also good for, as one patient referred to his sexual function, “his nature.” It doesn’t stop there. Eating well and exercising are also critical for optimal functioning of the brain and other vital organs.
The bottom line: the health of our blood vessels is critical for our overall health. Eat well; mostly plants and not too much, as Michael Pollan says. Exercise regularly, including both aerobic and strength training. You never need to experience a heart attack or a loss of sexual function. They are both entirely preventable and also reversible. So if ED comes to visit, you now know how to kick him out.
Dr. Charles Huebner is a local rheumatologist and internist. He is the owner of Harbor LifeStyle Center in Petoskey. More information about lifestyle is available at www.harborlifestylecenter.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.