Pills vs. Diet For Erectile Dysfunction

Don’t Pop Pills For Erectile Dysfunction. Help Your Heart, Instead.

Erectile dysfunction is the recurrent or persistent inability to attain and/or maintain an erection in order for satisfactory sexual performance. It is present in up to 30 million men in the U.S. and approximately 100 million men worldwide. The U.S. has less than 8% of the world’s population, yet up to 30% of the impotence? We’re #1!

But hey, we’ve got red, white, and blue pills like Viagra. The problem is that the pills just cover up the symptoms of vascular disease and don’t do anything for the underlying pathology. Erectile dysfunction and our #1 killer, coronary artery disease, are just two manifestations of the same disease: inflamed, clogged, and crippled arteries, regardless of which organ it affects (See Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death).

Atherosclerosis is considered a systemic disorder that uniformly affects all major blood vessels in the body. Hardening of the arteries can lead to softening of the penis because stiffened arteries can’t relax, open wide, and let the blood flow. Thus erectile dysfunction may just be the flaccid “tip of an iceberg” in terms of a systemic disorder. For two-thirds of men showing up to emergency rooms for the first time with crushing chest pain, their penis had been trying to warn them for years that something was wrong with their circulation.

Why does it hit the penis first? Because the penile arteries in the penis are half the size of the coronary artery in our heart. So the amount of plaque we wouldn’t even feel in the heart could clog half the penile artery, causing symptomatic restriction in blood flow. That’s why erectile dysfunction has been called “penile angina.” In fact, by measuring blood flow in a man’s penis we can predict the results of his cardiac stress test with an accuracy of 80%. Male sexual function is like a penile stress test, a “window into the hearts of men.”

Forty percent of men over age forty have erectile dysfunction. 40 over 40. Men with erection difficulties in their 40s have a 50-fold increased risk of having a cardiac event (like sudden death). I said before that various things increase heart disease risk by 20% or 30%. That’s nearly 5000%, leading the latest review to ask, “is there any risk greater?” That’s because it’s not so much a risk factor for atherosclerosis as atherosclerosis itself. A man “with erectile dysfunction (even if he doesn’t have cardiac symptoms) should be considered a cardiac patient until proven otherwise.”

Erectile dysfunction is considered to be a cardiac equivalent; it’s a marker of the coronary artery one likely already has. Thus, there’s more to treating ED than establishing an erect penis; it offers an opportunity for reducing cardiovascular risk. The reason even young men should care about their cholesterol is because it predicts erectile dysfunction later in life, which in turn predicts heart attacks, strokes, and a shortened lifespan.

Thankfully, Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped. Check out my video on Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death. More background can be found in Arterial Acne and Blocking the First Step of Heart Disease.

Related videos include: 50 Shades of Green and Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.

Previous videos on the subject include:

A similar relationship appears to exist for female sexual function as well. See my video: Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: sea turtle / Flickr
  • Nevo

    Could Alzheimer’s and dementia partially be just a form of heart disease in the brain? I’ve often wondered if high omega 6 fats as well as cooked and heated fats might partially be a cause. All this stuff seems related as far as heart disease, ED, and brain issues, no?

    • b00mer

      There’s quite a bit of research out regarding saturated fat/trans fat/cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. Different studies have come to different conclusions. To me it seems intuitive that better blood flow would lead to improved healing capabilities. Add in higher levels of micronutrients in the blood, and the changes in blood composition/immune function as a result of micronutrient intake, and it seems difficult to imagine that these dietary components wouldn’t be making any difference.



  • Michael Miller

    Great article. Is there a similar “early warning marker” for women?

  • Ice

    I believe the protein powders that health-conscienous-working-out men take do the most harm in clogging up their systems.

    • Nevo

      Interesting. Why the protein powders?

  • ShaneJax

    US has less than 5% of world population much less 8%

  • Merio

    it seems that even too much soy could cause impotence (reversible): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21353476

    It’s only a case study and of a single patient that eat a lot of soy, but i think it’s interesting to know this.

  • Jon Travis

    I am an SOS-free vegan and am convinced by the science that a plant based diet can successfully treat many common diseases. That said, I am also convinced that routine infant circumcision is a major factor in ED. I am disheartened that Dr Greger and other plant-strong physicians mention only the potential involvement of diet, because (1) it gives an incomplete picture, (2) provides false hope to some men, and (3) misses an opportunity to get rid of this misguided procedure that the NHS in the UK back in 1948 said was unnecessary (and therefore no longer paid for).

    Circumcision removes an amount of skin (containing many nerves, nerve endings, and blood vessels) that normally comprises an area the size of a post card in an adult intact penis. The lack of a foreskin also exposes the glans to the air, which results in extra layers of dry dead skin that deaden the remaining sensitivity. The folded, double layer of skin is only found in the foreskin and the eyelid. That structure was chosen by evolution for important reasons.

    The USA and Israel have the highest levels of Viagra use and both countries perform routine infant circumcision. Additionally, many countries in Europe now eat high meat and fat diets (comparable to the USA) and their populations are obese and have blood vessel disease. However, their infant males are mostly left intact and ED does not occur in adults as early.

    If you are the expectant parent of a baby boy please educate yourself about circumcision. If you are unsure about circumcision then leave that choice for the child to decide when they reach adulthood. After all, whose body is it?