Oxidative stress and inflammation, which disrupt nitric oxide (NO) production directly or by causing resistance to insulin, are central determinants of vascular diseases including ED. Decreased vascular NO has been linked to abdominal obesity, smoking and high intakes of fat and sugar, which all cause oxidative stress. Men with ED have decreased vascular NO and circulating and cellular antioxidants. Oxidative stress and inflammatory markers are increased in men with ED, and all increase with age. Exercise increases vascular NO, and more frequent erections are correlated with decreased ED, both in part due to stimulation of endothelial NO production by shear stress. Exercise and weight loss increase insulin sensitivity and endothelial NO production. Potent antioxidants or high doses of weaker antioxidants increase vascular NO and improve vascular and erectile function. Antioxidants may be particularly important in men with ED who smoke, are obese or have diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammatory markers, decrease cardiac death and increase endothelial NO production, and are therefore critical for men with ED who are under age 60 years, and/or have diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery disease, who are at increased risk of serious or even fatal cardiac events. Phosphodiesterase inhibitors have recently been shown to improve antioxidant status and NO production and allow more frequent and sustained penile exercise. Some angiotensin II receptor blockers decrease oxidative stress and improve vascular and erectile function and are therefore preferred choices for lowering blood pressure in men with ED. Lifestyle modifications, including physical and penile-specific exercise, weight loss, omega-3 and folic acid supplements, reduced intakes of fat and sugar, and improved antioxidant status through diet and/or supplements should be integrated into any comprehensive approach to maximizing erectile function, resulting in greater overall success and patient satisfaction, as well as improved vascular health and longevity.
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DRM, JCG and MAM are shareholders of Sexuality EDucation Network, which operates the website http: //www.erectile-function.com.
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Meldrum, D., Gambone, J., Morris, M. et al. Lifestyle and metabolic approaches to maximizing erectile and vascular health. Int J Impot Res 24, 61–68 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijir.2011.51
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