Believe it or not, but erectile dysfunction is a cardiovascular condition.
Erections are all about blood flow. Sexual excitement dilates blood vessels in the penis, causing blood to rush into the region. As the penis begins to engorge with blood it becomes stiff and enlarged, and our partner becomes satisfied. Hopefully. If you consistently find your flag at half-mast, welcome to the mood-killing world of erectile dysfunction.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction results most frequently from another condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis refers to a hardening of the arteries and develops from plaque that deposits itself on the inside of our blood vessels. With enough plaque buildup, arteries can become fully blocked, or occluded, and blood flow ceases. If this occurs in small penile arteries, erectile dysfunction arises. Left untreated, plaques continue to form until larger blood vessels become clogged. A major blockage can result in heart attack or stroke.
Formation of plaque most commonly results from poor diet. Our Western diet, high in saturated fats and added sugars, is a perfect example. Aside from making dietary improvements, researchers had no advice when it came to avoiding heart disease and erectile dysfunction. That is, until Christopher Wingard and his team at East Carolina University began feeding junk food to rats.
The Rat Experiment: Erectile Dysfunction, Diet and Exercise
Wingard divided the rats into two groups: those that ate a healthy diet and those that ate a Western diet “high in sugar and with nearly half its calories from fat.” Within each group, half of the rats exercised five days a week on a treadmill. The other half did not exercise at all. After twelve weeks of experimenting, Wingard tested the rats’ erectile dysfunction by electrically stimulating the cavernosal nerve, which causes the increase in blood flow that brings about an erection. He also examined major blood vessels, looking to compare heart health across the four groups.
The rats that consumed the Western diet but remained sedentary experienced the highest incidence of erectile dysfunction. The group that consumed the same diet but exercised vigorously were largely able to avoid any significant erectile dysfunction. Both groups of rats that ate the healthy diet did not experience any erectile dysfunction. Heart health was also the worst in the sedentary, Western diet group.
While the results are exciting, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. What has been shown in this experiment is that vigorous activity during a period of “junk food” eating will reduce erectile dysfunction. There is no evidence that moderate activity will help prevent erectile dysfunction, nor is there evidence to show that intense exercise initiated after a prolonged exposure to poor diet has any effect on erectile dysfunction. So, if you’re a Big Mac kind of guy, remember: hit the gym early, and keep it up!
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