Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.

A follow-up study from the ExCEED database compared men with ED and prostate cancer to men with ED without prostate cancer and found that the prostate cancer survivors had worse erectile function but reported better quality of life than those without prostate cancer.37 The authors hypothesized that the prostate cancer survivors were able to “rationalize” away their sexual dysfunction with the knowledge that they may have been “cured” of their prostate cancer. Clearly, diabetic men could not use the same rationale.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Overall, sexual intercourse does not lead to an extremely exaggerated heart rate or blood pressure level when performed in a familiar setting with one's usual partner.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References In a prospective review of 3250 men aged 26 to 83 years without ED at their first examination, total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels were found to be strongly predictive of onset of ED after controlling for age, diabetes mellitus, stress level, cardiovascular disease, and prostate disease.25x25Wei, M, Macera, CA, Davis, DR, Hornung, CA, Nankin, HR, and Blair, SN. Total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as important predictors of erectile dysfunction. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 930–937
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
In diabetic patients who fail medical management of ED, penile implantation surgery remains a viable therapeutic option. In a recent review of 372 men who underwent implantation of a three-piece inflatable penile implant, 86% reported that the device was still functional 5 years after implantation, and 79% reported that they used the device at least twice monthly.59

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause ED as well. According to the authors of one study, about 30 percent of men with high blood pressure also have had ED. Finding a medication that treats high blood pressure without causing ED is a goal of many men.
In the past 6 years, the FDA has approved three oral agents for the treatment of ED: sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. All three are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors and work by potentiating the effect of nitric oxide in the penis. In particular, they block the hydrolysis of cyclic guanosine monophosphate to guanosine 5'-monophosphate, thus enhancing nitric oxide–mediated smooth muscle relaxation, increasing blood flow to the penis and facilitating erection.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
Because ED has several causes, sorting out exactly what is causing your problem may take some time. First, make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are using, including over-the-counter or herbal products. Drugs frequently used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and peptic ulcers can all cause ED. But don’t stop taking any of your medications without first talking to your doctor.
The study, which retrospectively tracked more than 43,000 men for an average of 3.3 years, found that men prescribed phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—the type of erectile dysfunction drug sold under the names Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and others—after their first heart attack were 38 percent less likely to die from any cause. No survival benefit was seen among men taking alprostadil, another type of erectile dysfunction drug that works through a different mechanism.
A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10

Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS 9-year follow-up study has shown that a body mass index of 28 kg/m2 or higher was an independent predictor for ED, with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.96.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338

This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.


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Despite the existing controversies, available data so far imply the old generation b-blockers (e.g., propranolol) as the major culprits for sexual dysfunction with the newer ones (carvedilol, celiprolol) to exert a less pronounced negative effect[21-24]. A luminous exception to the rule, nebivolol, is a newer agent of its class which significantly ameliorates erectile dysfunction through increased nitric oxide generation, an effect consistently demonstrated in recent studies[25,26]. Diuretics, even on adjunct therapy, constitute another antihypertensive agent negatively associated with sexual function[27-29]. On the other hand, calcium antagonists and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors seem to demonstrate a neutral effect[30-32]. Interestingly, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) by blocking the vasoconstrictive action of angiotensin II seem to positively affect erectile function and are thus regarded as a first-line treatment in hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction[22,25,33-35].
A man needs to try the medicine at least four times before he concludes that it doesn’t work for him. It is unlikely that a man with diabetes who has other medical problems such as high blood pressure, is taking multiple medicines, and has not had sexual intercourse for several years will be able to have an erection adequate for intercourse the first time he takes a pill. Most men need to try the medicine several times before they have the desired results.
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