Almost 400 years ago, English physician Thomas Sydenham wrote that “a man is as old as his arteries.” I can relate. As a practicing cardiologist of more than 30 years, my practice is dedicated to helping arteries stay young. This effort now includes GAINSWave shock wave therapy for repairing the root cause of erectile dysfunction in many men: aging arteries and nerves to the sexual organs. In this effort, I ask every one of my male patients about his ability to develop and maintain an erection. Although the usual response is “strong like bull,” the reality is that many of these men are experiencing erections more akin to wet spaghetti.
Recent data indicates that being able to identify the combination of weak erections and another key indicator like the presence of diabetes can very accurately predict future heart events like heart attacks or heart death – more so than inquiring about other factors such as smoking, blood pressure, or even family history of early heart disease.
This information is amazing to have and affords a man the time to identify, treat, and reverse arterial damage. So, do yourself or your man a favor, share this information (in a supportive way), teach more people about “survival of the firmest” as it’s been called by Dr. Michael Greger, and enjoy a lifestyle that promotes arterial health, head-to-toe (but emphasizing the joy of the groin).
Why the connection between healthy arteries and satisfactory erections?
Within the inner lining of every artery, including the penile arteries, is a single layer of cells called the endothelium. It is estimated that the endothelium lining arteries would cover 6-7 tennis courts of surface area if stretched out! An appreciation of the endothelium has even won three researchers the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1998. They figured out that when this wallpaper-like lining was healthy, it produced the gas nitric oxide (NO), which resists plaque, clotting, or constriction of arteries. A good endothelium leads to good sustained erections, just as it leads to good heart artery flow. Endothelial dysfunction (ED) leads to a poor blood flow response throughout the body and poor maintenance of the swollen penis needed to create and sustain an erection and (shares the initials with erectile dysfunction (ED).
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What harms the endothelium?
Lifestyle factors are known to harm the endothelium and its production of nitric oxide. These factors include hypertension, diabetes, elevated lipids and obesity which instigates erectile and endothelial dysfunction. Smoking may be the worst of these. Additionally, the standard American diet (high in processed foods packed with chemicals, fat, sugar and salt like butter, bacon and burgers), combined with a sedentary lifestyle, poorly managed stress, environmental toxins like BPA, and poor sleep are among the factors that produce ED. Diets emphasizing plant-powered rainbow diets, low in trans- and saturated fats and rich in minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients not only promote arterial health but also erectile success.
How powerful is erectile dysfunction as a heart predictor?
ED is an amazing predictor of future coronary artery disease events. For example, if you live in Olmsted County, Minnesota, near the Mayo clinic, and are a man between the ages of 40 and 49 without known heart disease but with erectile dysfunction, your risk of eventually having new heart events is roughly 50 times higher than compared to men the same age not experiencing regular ED. Rarely in medicine is there ever a risk factor this powerful so it’s always worth investigating if you or someone you love begins to suffer from regularly occurring ED. (To compare: smoking, for example, may raise the risk of similar events 3-fold.)
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What do you do if you have erectile dysfunction to survive?
My advice: if you have ED, you should see a physician, perhaps a cardiologist, who will not only help you to detect these problems early, they may also help you develop lifestyle strategies to avoid them altogether. In my office patients with ED and no known heart issues are going to receive instructions to address their diet, exercise, and stress management, guiding them to an artery healthy lifestyle that promotes a strong heart and a strong erection. The “numbers” that matter will be measured like blood pressure, weight, waist circumference, and lab tests like fasting blood sugar, cholesterol and LDL particle number, hs-CRP, homocysteine and lp(a). An EKG will be performed. Generally, I recommend patients have a coronary artery calcium CT scan (CACS) at a local hospital, typically for less than $200. The CACS can pick up the presence of threatening heart artery disease in patients with ED years before the heart attack, stent, heart bypass, or sudden death. Test not guess!
A trick used by miners to avoid being exposed to and dying from elevated levels of toxic gases like carbon monoxide was to bring a caged canary into the coal mine. If the canary acted strange or died, the miners knew to exit the mine immediately before they were at risk for death from toxic gases. Therefore, erectile dysfunction is often referred to as the canary in the coal mine; an early warning system for men. The erection that doesn’t happen or can’t be sustained can give clues to poor lifestyles and sick arteries 3 to 4 years before the chest pain strikes. If you’re a man with erectile dysfunction, you need to get a complete check-up.
If you know a man with this problem, share this article and gently but firmly (remember: survival of the firmest) guide him to a doctor to get checked out. You might just save a life, not to mention helping to restore sexual performance and joy to someone’s life.
Joel Kahn, MD is founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in suburban Detroit and serves as Clinical Professor of Cardiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. After graduating medical school Summa Cum Laude, he went on to train in treating heart attacks. He now focuses on aggressive preventive and regenerative cardiology. He has been on the Joe Rogan Experience, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and the Doctor’s Show.
*This article was adapted from Gentleman’s Way Magazine. Download the most recent issue.