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Happy, Healthy, and Hard

Experts explain the connection between a man's overall health and his sexual health.
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WebMD Feature

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.

"There's an incredibly important link between a man's health and sexual performance," Lamm, an assistant professor of medicine at New York University, tells WebMD.

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Lamm's recent book, The Hardness Factor, is a flashing neon sign pointing to that link.

It is well known that heart disease, as well as diabetes, depression, obesity, substance abuse, and many other health problems can quash erections. Getting an erection isn't crude mechanics, like inflating a balloon. It's a complex process in which blood vessels, muscles, hormones, the nervous system, and the psyche all work together. If one part isn't working well, it affects the whole apparatus.

This isn't another book touting Viagra, like Lamm's The Virility Solution, published in 1998, the same year Viagra hit the market. Lamm says The Hardness Factor is not for men who are already dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED). His aim is to convince young, healthy men to take better care of themselves by speaking to their penises.

"If you want a 28-year-old man to stop smoking, let him read the book," Lamm says.

Heart Health and Sexual Health

Others in the field of sexual medicine agree that erectile function can be closely related to overall health, especially heart health.

"When men who are otherwise healthy ask what they can do to prevent ED, certainly the very things we recommend for cardiovascular fitness are exactly the same things they should be doing," Drogo Montague, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells WebMD.

To get erect, the penis must become engorged with blood. Atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits build up inside arteries, may restrict blood flow to the penis and cause erection difficulties. Diets high in fat and cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and smoking are the main causes of atherosclerosis.

"It's very appealing to say that if you don't have those unhealthy factors in your lifestyle, then you're less likely to develop erectile dysfunction," says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

"There are pretty strong suggestions that those things are true," he tells WebMD.

One persuasive piece of evidence appeared in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Between 1972 and 1974, researchers in California surveyed 1,810 men about their risks for heart disease. In 1998, researchers contacted 844 of them who were still alive and asked them about their erectile function. The men who had risk factors for heart disease in the '70s were much more likely to have ED 25 years later.

If men with heart disease are more likely to develop ED, it stands to reason that having ED could be a warning sign for heart disease, too.

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