Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition that can affect men of any age, although it does become more common in middle age and beyond. Part of the reason for this is that unhealthy lifestyles begin to take a toll on the body, leading to many of the health problems that are closely associated with ED.
Some of the most frequent causes of lifestyle-related health problems are eating a diet that is high in sugar and saturated fats, taking too little exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol to excess. All these factors can lead to high cholesterol, which in itself may be a symptom of a more serious health problem such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The problem is that high cholesterol in itself may not have obvious symptoms, and it is thought that up to 60% of people may have elevated cholesterol levels and not even be aware of it.
It’s a slightly complicated condition to understand because there are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is ‘good’ cholesterol. It is made up of fats and protein which helps to return excess cholesterol and fat in the body to the liver. The body is then able to recycle or remove unwanted fatty tissues.
HDL also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and helps to protect cells and the walls of the arteries. This can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes and ED because the blood is able to circulate more efficiently around the body.
However, there is also a ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that builds up in the arteries and makes it harder for the blood to circulate effectively around the body. Although we all have a certain amount of LDL in our bodies, when volumes are too high it increases the risk of heart disease and other conditions including ED.
The excess cholesterol substances become attached to the walls of the arteries, making them narrower and reducing the amount of blood that can reach the extremities, including the erectile tissues in the penis.
Elevated LDL levels also make it more difficult for the body to produce nitric oxide, which helps the muscles in the penis to relax in preparation for an erection.
About 80% of all cholesterol is produced by the body, and the rest is accumulated through our diet. If we eat too many foods containing saturated fats, such as meat, butter, and dairy, then cholesterol levels will become raised because the liver is not able to break them down as efficiently.
Doctors recommend that our diet should contain a certain amount of so-called healthy unsaturated fats. These are found in foods such as oily fish, nuts, and olive oils. Fibre also helps to absorb LDL so wholemeal bread, oats, and fruit and vegetables are good food to include. Regular exercise is also a proven way of lowering LDL cholesterol in the body.
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