Erectile dysfunction affects around 20% of men over 20 years of age – that’s around 20 million people. But, in a recent survey of men suffering from ED, half of them couldn’t name a single risk factor that might potentially cause or contribute to it. Despite how common it is, we as a society have very little understanding of erectile dysfunction, and of the steps we can all take to mitigate it.
To help spread some awareness of the physical, physiological, and mental factors of erectile dysfunction, we’ve pulled together the 20 most common risk factors below, in the hopes that by identifying the cause, we can help people seek the right treatment. Some of them are quite unexpected.
Vitamin D Deficiency
There’s a correlation between low vitamin D intake and erectile dysfunction. This is synthesized from sunlight, and some foods like mushrooms, soy, and almond milk, so make sure you’re getting plenty.
Whether they’re being used legitimately, for injury recovery, or illegitimately, for a personal strength advantage, anabolic steroids suppress the production of testosterone and raise the risk of erectile dysfunction.
Some neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, or damage to the spinal column, can affect the function of nerves required for an erection.
Drugs prescribed for benign prostate hyperplasia, or any medication for an enlarged prostate before the age of 60, might be interfering with your ability to achieve an erection.
Prostate Cancer Treatment
Similar to 17, treatments for prostate cancer specifically are known to impair erectile ability. Removal of the prostate, hormone therapy, and radiation all imply erectile dysfunction.
Serious Illness or Injury
If you’ve been laid up with a very serious malady, you can rightly expect your erection to be laid up too. Your body may well have decided that now is not the time for procreation, and put your sexual needs aside while it concentrates on repairing injury or fighting illness.
Severe emotional stress, whichever name it’s given, from clinical anxiety to overwhelming worry, releases cortisol, a hormone that, among other things, restricts penile arteries, reducing the healthy flow of blood.
The growth of fatty deposits in the arteries and high levels of cholesterol narrows blood vessels, reducing the blood flow. What used to be called ‘hardening of the arteries,’ diet is inextricably linked to erectile function.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension damages the arteries over time and is a key risk in heart disease, one of the most common contributors to ED.
Diabetes greatly accelerates atherosclerosis, and as such, diabetics are three times more likely than healthy men to experience erectile dysfunction.
Medications to treat depression can be as damaging to erectile ability as depression itself, unfortunately. 10% of men who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors will suffer erectile dysfunction as a side-effect.
One in eight men experience serious depression at some point in their lives. The reasons are poorly understood and likely to be highly complex, but the outcome is that they are three times more likely to suffer ED.
There’s nothing good about smoking. Smoking greatly increases the risk of erectile dysfunction, by damaging the heart and arteries. Five years after quitting, though, the arteries recover, and with them, erections can too.
Energy that might be channelled into sex drive and function can be hijacked by the effort it takes to be carrying more weight. Obesity is also linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.
Lack of Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle is associated with obesity and high blood pressure, and diabetes and heart disease, all of which damage arteries and influence penile function.
Meats, Cheese, ice cream, and fast food are all high in saturated fat, which is most closely related to arterial problems.
Lack of Nutrients
The lack of fruit and vegetables is also a factor: less fat, more fruit is required, as fruit contains no saturated fat and plenty of natural vital nutrients.
Alcohol is a prime suspect for much of what influences reproductive function, on long term, heavy use of it can lead to erectile dysfunction, among other serious health problems, such as high blood pressure.
Sleep apnea is caused by excess tissue in the throat, signified by loud snoring and choking sounds. Typically the result of obesity, there is a strong correlation between sleep apnea and erectile function.
Everything mentioned above has an impact on this one: heart disease. This is the leading cause of erectile dysfunction in one way or another, and ensuring we pay attention to our bodies and their needs will help fight erectile dysfunction later in life.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He is an award-winning educator, having been honored three times with the Certificate of Teaching Excellence from Harvard University, where he taught for several years. Dr. Lehmiller has published more than 50 academic works, including a textbook titled The Psychology of Human Sexuality that is used in college classrooms around the world. He helps people maintain healthy intimate lives through science-based, sex-positive education via his Sex and Psychology blog, workshops, and frequent media appearances.