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    Happy, Healthy, and Hard

    Experts explain the connection between a man's overall health and his sexual health.
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    As the saying goes, the best measure of a man's character is the company he keeps. But what about his health? According to Steven Lamm, MD, the best measure of that is his erect penis.

    In his book, The Hardness Factor, Lamm argues that a man's overall health directly affects the quality of his erections. And if the promise of longer life isn't enough to convince men to take care of themselves, the promise of harder erections might be.

    "It's still the greatest hook to get men to make some real changes," says Lamm, who practices internal medicine in New York City.

    Since The Hardness Factor came out in 2005, it has become hard to deny the importance of erections in men's health.

    By the early 2000s, it was clear that men with heart disease were more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (ED). But recent studies have shown that the association goes the other way, too. In seemingly healthy men, ED may be an early sign of heart disease.

    Early Warning Sign

    Here's a quick look at three studies showing a link between heart disease and ED.

    The most recent of those studies, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2009, showed that ED may predict future heart disease. The 1,400 men who took part in that study had never been diagnosed with heart disease. But over the next decade, men with ED were 80% more likely to develop heart disease than men without ED -- regardless of smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight.

    Men in their 40s who had ED had the most dramatic increase in heart disease risk. They were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease as men of the same age without ED.

    Another study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in December 2005, tracked heart disease risk and ED in more than 9,000 men age 55 and older. The key finding: After accounting for other risk factors, men with ED were 45% more likely to develop heart disease over a five-year period. That's about the same increase in risk that has been linked to smoking or high cholesterol, the researchers noted.

    The third study, published in the journal European Urology in September 2005, showed that men with moderate-to-severe ED were 65% more likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared with men who didn't have ED. That study included about 2,500 Austrian men age 30-69.

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