Yes, and there’s the rub. High blood pressure, especially if untreated, can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). So can medications your doctor prescribes to bring down your high blood pressure. Fortunately, not all meds cause ED. Thiazides, diuretics or “water pills,” are common ED culprits. So are beta blockers. These effective heart meds slow your system down, and also affect blood flow where you need it -- in your penis -- at the right time. Alpha blockers, another class of medications that lower high blood pressure, are less likely to cause ED. So talk with your good doc about medication choices and side effects, so you can choose the right med for you.
These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References One MET is equal to a resting state, or 3.5 mL/kg per minute. The relative MET values of sexual activity compared with other forms of activity are shown in Table 3. In general, sexual activity is similar to mild or moderate activity for most patients either with or without coronary artery disease.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F
To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.
Several other facts support the close relationship between sexual dysfunction and CV disease. Endothelial dysfunction mediated by decreased nitric-oxide bioavailability as well as atherosclerotic lesions constitute a common pathophysiologic substrate affecting both CV disease and erectile dysfunction, a disease considered to be primarily of vascular origin[76,80-82]. Several traditional CV risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and smoking) are frequently found in individuals with erectile dysfunction, conferring a detrimental cardiovascular burden to them. More interestingly, the increased cardiovascular risk observed in those patients is independent of the aforementioned CV risk factors[81-88].
Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of ED was 1.83 times higher in men with a total cholesterol level greater than 240 mg/dL as opposed to less than 180 mg/dL. Also, an HDL cholesterol level greater than 60 mg/dL was found to be protective against the development of ED. In the MMAS, HDL cholesterol levels were noted to have an inverse relationship with the presence of ED.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (42) | Google ScholarSee all References Apomorphine does not appear to have any notable cardiovascular adverse effects and has been used successfully in Europe. However, apomorphine use has been associated with other unpleasant adverse effects such as nausea and emesis, and the drug has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Glycemia, as measured by glycosylated hemoglobin, also has been associated with the risk of developing ED in diabetic patients.21x21Klein, R, Klein, BE, Lee, KE, Moss, SE, and Cruickshanks, KJ. Prevalence of self-reported erectile dysfunction in people with long-term IDDM. Diabetes Care. 1996; 19: 135–141

Your choice of blood pressure medications could make a difference in the bedroom (or wherever you like to have sex). Thiazides (diuretics or “water pills”) and beta blockers are the most likely to cause erectile dysfunction (ED), while alpha blockers the least likely. Alpha blockers work by reducing nerve impulses to blood vessels, allowing blood to pass more easily. Ask your doctor whether these or other blood pressure medications are best for you.
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
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8
De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39
Besides mammalian organs, insects and arthropods are also consumed as aphrodisiacs in Eastern medicine. These include scorpions, spiders, beetles, flies and other bugs (32). Penile erections can be observed following administration of neurotoxins as it causes repetitive firing of the somatic, sympathetic and parasympathetic neurons, resulting in autonomic and neuromuscular over-excitation. Scorpions are often used as an ingredient found in herbal wines. However, there is a general lack of literature regarding the consumption of scorpion neurotoxins for potency.
Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common disorder that affects the quality of life of many patients. It is prevalent in more than half of males aged over 60 years. Increasing evidence suggests that ED is predominantly a vascular disorder. Endothelial dysfunction seems to be the common pathological process causing ED. Many common risk factors for atherosclerosis such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia are prevalent in patients with ED and so management of these common cardiovascular risk factors can potentially prevent ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors provide short-term change of haemodynamic factors to help initiate and maintain penile erection. They have been shown to be an effective and safe treatment strategy for ED in patients with heart disease, including those with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.
If your physician advises you that the risks of taking an erectile dysfunction medication are too high, he or she can advise you of other treatment options that can enable you to resume sexual activity without risks of complications. These might also include screening to try to determine if your erectile dysfunction has a physiological basis in need of medical intervention, can be corrected through lifestyle changes or if it may have psychological roots. After all, a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease can lead to depression, which can also affect libido. Talk with your doctor to establish a safe, effective plan for resuming intimacy after your heart disease diagnosis.
Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.

If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual performance. The prevalence of ED has been estimated as nearly 40% of men >40 years of age1 although these figures are contested.2 ED increases in frequency with age and is estimated to affect 15% of men aged 40–50 years, 45% of men in their 60s and 70% of men older than 70 years.3 Successful erection is a complex system involving reflex action (peripheral nerves and spinal cord), the limbic system (psychogenic stimuli) and the release of nitric oxide. Adequate levels of testosterone are required, and hence an intact hypothalamic/pituitary/testicular axis. Hence, ED can result from disease or treatment that produces hormonal deficiency, neurological impairment, problems with penile blood flow, disorders of tissue mechanics, psychological factors or any combination of these.
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.


Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.

Most importantly, herbal supplements are not well regulated in the United States.  Studies have shown that 40-50% of herbal supplements do not even contain the supposed main ingredient, and many contain substances that are not listed which may have dangerous side effects2.  Another study found that over two thirds of the products tested had substituted other plant species for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other fillers or contaminants3.  A study by the New York State Attorney General of herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart found that four out of every five products didn’t contain the ingredient they claimed!  Fourteen US states and territories have petitioned Congress to regulate the herbal supplements industry.


Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

In subsequent clinical studies, a surprisingly high percentage of EDDM patients–10% to 20%–claimed that the placebo "improved my erections," thus indicating a psychological basis for their ED. In the latter half of the 1980s, objective means were developed that could help determine if a EDDM patient had organic or psychogenic ED. The absence of rigid sleep erections confirmed by penile monitors was one criterion for organic ED. The failure of vasoactive agents (papaverine, Trimix, or prostaglandin E-1 [PGE-1]) injected into the corpora cavernosa to induce penile rigidity was another criterion for organic disease. Intracavernosal maintenance flow rates during pharmacocavernosometry and maximum cavernosal arterial flow during penile Doppler ultrasonography were additional determinants.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil has a 4000-fold increased selectivity for PDE-5 over PDE-3, has negligible effects on heart rate, and has only a modest effect on blood pressure level in healthy persons, with an average systolic pressure decrease of 10 mm Hg with a single dose of 100 mg.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
ED is a common complication of diabetes and people with diabetes are also prone to developing cardiovascular complications.48 The risk of ED is relatively high in patients with known CVD. This was supported by a study of men with known CVD, in which ED was substantially predictive of all-cause mortality and the composite of CVD death, admission for heart failure, MI and stroke.17 Macroangiopathy, microangiopathy and endothelial dysfunction are among the mechanisms by which diabetes causes ED.
** Indeterminate risk patients include diabetics, those with mild or moderate stable angina pectoris, past myocardial infarction (2-8 wks) without intervention awaiting exercise electrocardiography, congestive heart failure (NYHA class III), and noncardiac sequelae of atherosclerotic disease (eg, peripheral artery disease and a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack); this patient with ED may require assessment for additional vascular disease using carotid intima-media thickness or ankle-brachial index and subsequent reclassification to low or high risk.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.
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