Erectile dysfunction is defined as the consistent or recurrent inability to acquire or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity and duration for sexual intercourse. It is not an uncommon problem. In the United States, it affects approximately 18 to 30 million men aged 20 and older. The incidence is rising globally as well. The swelling surge of affected males is thought to be secondary to an aging population, a poor diet, lack of exercise and other unhealthy practices.
A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins, recently presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, revealed a greater prevalence of erectile dysfunction, also known as ED, among men with vitamin D deficiency (VDD).
ED is known to be have a multifactorial origin:
- Neurological - stroke, diabetes, spinal cord injury, or prostate surgery
- Drugs medications
- Psychological depression, performance anxiety
- Hormonal low testosterone
- Vascular any condition that damages blood vessels
About half of ED is due to vascular causes. The penis is a highly vascular organ, and erections are primarily vascular events. Sometimes, the first sign of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is manifested as ED, making it a good predictor of disease. Vitamin D deficiency has long been known to serve as a marker for CVD, given that vitamin D plays a role in vascular function throughout the body. VDD is associated with arterial stiffness and dysfunction of the vasculature.
The Johns Hopkins study was observational, therefore, making it difficult to establish causality. What the researchers found after they analyzed the records of 3,400 men ages 20 and older was that 30 percent were vitamin-D deficient and 16 percent reported symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Of the men with ED, 35 percent of them had VDD (defined as vitamin D levels below 20 nanograms per milliliter of blood) whereas, 29 percent of men without ED had VDD.
Even when the investigators controlled for other factors, such as medications, alcohol use, smoking, diabetes, inflammatory conditions and high blood pressure, they found that VDD men were 32 percent more likely to have ED in contrast to men with adequate vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is easy to screen for and simple to correct with lifestyle changes that include exercise, dietary changes and vitamin supplementation and modest sunlight exposure, according to the study s lead author Erin Michos, MD, MHS, a preventive cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Checking Vitamin D levels may turn out to be a useful tool to gauge ED risk. The most relevant clinical question then becomes whether correcting the deficiency could reduce risk and help restore erectile function.
There are many common mechanisms that underlie the development of both CVD and ED, and VDD is closely associated with both disorders. It would warrant further investigation to see if optimizing levels of vitamin D could be used as a preventive measure for developing ED. This could work complentary to medications like Viagra or even become first-line treatment.