It’s the stuff of legend…but is it true? Has anyone really seen the Loch Ness monster? How about Big Foot in Saskatchewan? And what about medical lore that states that what happens to the penis predicts what happens to the heart?
The Penis-as-Heart Legend
For the past decade or so, a pile of studies have suggested that a man’s risk of a heart attack or stroke doubles later in life if he has an erection problem in his 50s or younger. Furthermore, the same issues that predispose us to heart attacks and strokes, termed cardiovascular risk factors, are also thought to be key for developing erectile dysfunction. You may know them: high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and lipids, obesity, cigarette smoking and diabetes mellitus. As a group, these purveyors of ill health are termed the “metabolic syndrome,” and clinicians now routinely ask about the whole lot of them when evaluating men for erectile dysfunction.
But here’s the million-dollar question: If overall health is improved by reducing or eliminating these unhealthy risk factors, will erections also improve? Because if they do, legend become truth and, eventually, life-saving wisdom.
A Pair of Meta-Studies
Hot off the press are two new studies, termed meta-analyses, that address this exact question. They analyzed whether cholesterol-lowering medications that are routinely prescribed to decrease heart attacks and strokes, can improve erections. Mind you, these drugs, called “statins,” are not prescribed for erectile dysfunction, but are used exclusively for heart disease. But here’s the conceptual leap that’s so neat: If you make the heart happier, will the penis be happier too? If true, this finding would certainly support the decade-old lore that the penis and heart are joined at the hip, or somewhere nearby.
These meta-studies each summarized what they thought were the best clinical trials done to date comparing statins to placebo (sugar pills) in men with erectile function and examined at how erections changed in each group. Cholesterol levels were also followed as expected to ensure that the typical responses to statins were observed.
Lo and behold, although the two studies chose different published trials (11 and 5) to analyze and assess, the bottom line is that their conclusions were similar: that statin use lowered cholesterol and improved erections much better than sugar pills in men with high cholesterol levels. In fact, statins improved erections about half as well as the industry-leading erection pills (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis etc). Not a bad response on the part of the penis to pills that were meant to help the heart.
Of course, both studies have a bucket full of technical limitations, but the overall message is quite compelling. Take better care of yourself and your heart and your penis will follow. Another urban legend confirmed.