The Takeaway First
The penis is the barometer of male health. Since erectile dysfunction is closely linked to various forms of heart disease, failure to keep an erection may be a sign of an incoming cardiac event.
According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, conducted in 1994, erectile dysfunction is a common problem for aging men. More than half of men over 50, and more than two-thirds of men over 70 have ED. A more recent review article in the European Heart Journal showed that ED has a strong connection to heart disease. In patients who had ED;
• Cardiovascular events were 44% more common
• Cardiovascular mortality rose by 19%
• Heart attack was 62% more likely in patients • Cerebrovascular events (such as stroke) were 39% more likely
• All-cause mortality (death, period) was 25% more likely.
What connects these two issues? Poor arterial health, and an important compound called Nitric Oxide.
Nitric Oxide (NO) – linking ED and CVD
Nitric Oxide (NO) is mainly responsible for widening the arteries during physical activity, but it also plays a role in sexual activity. It opens the arteries in the penis so that blood can flow in and cause an erection. It goes without saying that, without NO, the arteries don’t expand as they normally would. Plaque ends up forming on the walls of the arteries, and this leads to a variety of heart problems including heart attack and stroke. This plaque doesn’t just form on the walls of arteries in the heart and around the brain. It collects on all of the arteries in the body, and the penis is no exception. What’s different about the penis, though, is that you can easily see whether or not it’s working. (It’s harder to look inside your aorta.)
And since erections depend on healthy arteries, an erect penis a great marker of a healthy cardiovascular system.
In Chinese Medicine the Heart and Penis are connected
In Chinese medicine the Heart channel is related to the Kidney channel within the Shao Yin channels. It is also indirectly related to the Kidneys through the Du Mai and Ren Mai, both of which flow through the Heart and originate from the space between the Kidneys. Both the Du and Ren Mai have a profound influence on sexuality and the sexual function including sexual desire, sexual arousal, erection, maintenance of erection and ejaculation. Furthermore, the Chong Mai also starts from the space between the Kidneys and goes to the Heart and, in addition, it controls the zong muscles in the abdomen which many interpret as being the penis. Thus, especially in men’s sexuality, we can consider the Heart as an “Upper Kidney”, influencing many of the sexual functions. If we accept this, it is easy to see how mental-emotional stress affecting the Heart has a profound influence on the sexual function in men. (Giovanni Maciocia, February 2013)
My Take on This
Erectile Dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is a common problem, but, for reasons I will explain, I would not say it’s normal. Because of the strong links between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular problems, and the perhaps stronger links between cardiovascular health, diet, and exercise, I see the penis as a kind of barometer of male health. When the fluid transport systems in the body are working correctly, erections are a natural result. When arteries are clogged and hardened by an unhealthy lifestyle, the arteries in the penis take a hit just as much as the arteries in the heart, and erections are blocked.
So, how many erections should you be getting? What’s a “day in the life” of a healthy penis? If you’re not sexually active, you should experience morning erections at least 3 to 4 times a week. During normal REM sleep each night, the average man has between three and five erections. (Yes, that many.) And, of course, it should not normally be difficult to gain an erection leading up to sexual activity. If you’re a physician, check the cardiovascular health of your male patients by asking whether they have trouble getting an erection. For young men especially, ED is a strong indicator of future heart problems.
The Bottom Line
What do we learn from this? First, frequent and regular erections are a sign of good cardiovascular health. Of course, this link does not apply for men who have undergone prostate cancer treatment like surgery or radiation.
Keep in mind, though, that ED is not necessarily a sign of a heart problem; it can be caused by anxiety as well, and a failure to rise could stem from fear, discomfort, or other psychological problems. But if these are not your problems, then I’d advise taking a look at your lifestyle.
The best thing you can do is to prevent or resolve metabolic syndrome by changing your lifestyle. Get out and exercise. Cut out processed foods from your diet. To make sure your body produces enough NO, get some extra L-Arginine from animal protein and nuts. Better yet, consider L-Citrulline which is a nutrient that makes more L-Arginine in the body than L-Arginine itself and has shown to help with sexual function. Eating pomegranate and taking Resveratrol can help with endothelial dysfunction.
Vlachopoulos C, Jackson G, Stefanadis C, and Montorsi P. (2013). Erectile Dysfunction in the Cardiovascular Patient. Eur Heart J. 34(27): 2034-2046.
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