Men, don't blow it this year. If you are experiencing performance anxiety or a declining libido, it might not be stress or fatigue that's keeping you from sharing your passion. Your body may be sending you a signal that all is not right with your heart.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is not a natural part of aging; men can have loving, fulfilling, and active sex lives well into old age. It is a serious vascular disorder that can also be a red flag to heart disease. In fact, one of the first signs of heart problems is a reduction in penile hardness; men can experience declining sexual function as many as four to five years prior to their first heart attack.
The good news is that ED can be corrected, and often times, reversed. A lack of blood flow to the penis is the root of the problem. Your endothelium (the thin lining of blood vessels around the heart) forms a dynamic interface between your blood and body. Its cells secrete substances to regulate vital chemical reactions, keep blood moving smoothly, control blood pressure, ensure vascular tone, control the inflammatory process, and much more. A problem with endothelial function affects coronary circulation and penile hardness during arousal.
Another common vascular problem is cholesterol. The same plaque buildup that can occur in your coronary arteries can occur throughout the body. So, if the arteries supplying your heart with blood are becoming clogged, the smaller arteries of your penis may experience the same problem, only sooner. This dysfunction causes ED, and links it directly to your heart health.
Yet too often physicians treat ED with erectile enhancement drugs and ignore the underlying problem. Considering that 70 percent to 90 percent of men are not treated properly, this strategy is more than a little dangerous.
We also know that those pills may not be all that they claim to be. According to research, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra have less than a 50 percent refill rate, despite the happy guys that you see on the television commercials. And for those that continue taking them, these erectile-enhancing drugs impact your whole body and can produce dangerous side effects outside of the much talked-about four-hour erection. A 2010 study from the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery demonstrated that men over age 40 who were taking erectile dysfunction drugs had a doubled risk for hearing loss.
So if things in the bedroom aren't quite what they used to be, first see your doctor to rule out other underlying health concerns. Then, even if your doc hands you a prescription for those little blue pills, I recommend that you try out these more natural options:
Use It Or Lose It
The penis is not a muscle, but it is connected to your pelvic floor muscles, which really do the work of great sex. And like any other muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets. Kegels, once thought of only for women, are an amazing way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which will in turn make your erections stronger and harder with more ejaculatory power and control.
Urologist Dr. Frank Sommer led a study that demonstrated that men doing PC exercises had 80 percent stronger, harder erections -- performing better than those taking erectile dysfunction medications. Dr. Grace Dorey found that 40 percent of men who did Kegels were completely cured of ED and another 35 percent had significant improvement.
The next time you have to urinate, stop your flow midstream. The muscles you use to do that are part of your pelvic floor muscles. Then, when you aren't urinating, you can do 10-20 reps of this same squeeze, repeating several times a day.
Continue Working Out The Rest Of Your Body
Resistance training, cardio workouts and functional fitness can all improve your sexual function. Active men over 50 report better erections and have a 30 percent lower risk for impotence than their couch-potato, or mouse-potato friends. And you also may want to throw in some yoga or Pilates since they help increase blood flow to the penile area. Like I tell my patients, a flexible man is a sexual man.
The Sleep Factor
If you are chronically experiencing bad sleep, you may be suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a common disease that's largely undiagnosed. OSA has also been linked with ED because it disrupts your rapid-eye-movement (REM) part of the sleep cycle, which is when erections while sleeping normally occur. The REM disruption causes fewer erections, which affects your overall sexual health. Dr. Charles Atwood of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sleep Medicine Center believes that it's possible that men need to experience REM erections in order to maintain optimal sexual functioning. He has also found that men who are diagnosed and treated for OSA often see an improvement in sexual functioning.
Celebrate With Dark Chocolates
Look for the Valentine's heart that is filled with dark chocolates, which have fewer calories and more antioxidants than milk chocolate. According to Dr. Eric Braverman and his new book, Younger Sexier You, these sweets also contain phenylethylamine (PEA), a nutrient that gives you a natural feeling of well-being and excitement. The darker the chocolate, the more PEA. It also contains epicatechins, the plant flavonoids that benefit your blood vessels. But don't indulge too often: slimmer men definitely have a sexual advantage (especially if you're single).
Talk To Your Doctor About Natural Hormone Therapies
Low testosterone is linked to a higher degree of atherosclerotic obstruction, greater heart disease risk, and ED. You'll be doing your entire body a favor by determining whether or not you are experiencing andropause, and by treating it effectively, you can restore your sex life.
Jeffry Life, M.D., Ph.D. has a thriving age management medicine practice in Las Vegas, Nevada. His first book, THE LIFE PLAN, will be published by Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, in May 2011. For more information, visit his website at www.drlife.com.