In a surprising television event 25 years ago, Bob Dole, the respected senator from Kansas and former presidential candidate, publicly admitted his struggles with sexual impotence.
This wasn’t a provocative ploy for reality TV, but a watershed moment for men’s health—the year Viagra was approved as a treatment. Recruited by Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, Dole put a distinguished, conservative face to a deeply personal problem affecting millions.
Why was this significant?
At the time, Pfizer feared a backlash over a “sex pill” promoting promiscuity. Dole, a family man known for his long-standing marriage and conservative Republican values, was chosen to quash such concerns. His message was clear:
“I have a medical problem. It’s tough to talk about, but there is a treatment.”
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) – An Underestimated Health Indicator
With Pfizer’s push, ED—defined as an inability to maintain an erection consistently for over six months—came to the forefront.
The response was overwhelming, with countless men globally seeking help. Hundreds of millions of men worldwide stepped forward for the first time to seek help for their condition.
25 years on, discussing ED remains challenging. However, it’s paramount to recognize ED’s implications beyond sexual health.
When the body functions optimally, blood flow is unimpeded. If blood flow is compromised, so is erectile function. This signals underlying health issues such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes, psychological anxiety, or even relationship problems.
Therefore, ED is less about the symptom and more about identifying and managing the potential underlying causes which could lead a man to premature heart attacks, strokes and dementia to say the least.
In Australia alone, roughly 1 in 5 men aged 40 and above grapple with ED. And its prevalence escalates with age.
ED and Professional Performance
While I understand that this is a difficult topic, often shrouded in shame and embarrassment both for the person affected AND their partner, I encourage you to educate yourself and your loved one about ED’s widespread impact.
ED’s influence isn’t limited to personal life. Its ripple effects permeate professional spheres, especially among high-performers.
ED can erode confidence, affecting participation and leadership in work settings.
- Mental Health:
Persistent worries about ED can hinder concentration and decision-making and even lead to depression.
- Sleep Issues:
Poor sleep, and especially sleep apnea is linked to ED. Conversely, ED has also be shown to be a cause of poor sleep. This bi-directional relationship can result in fatigue and decreased cognitive abilities.
- Relationship Tensions:
Personal strains due to ED can spill over into professional life, affecting productivity and a leader’s ability to manage pressure and professional relationships.
Modifiable Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction
While some risk factors for ED, like genetics or age, are beyond our control, numerous lifestyle choices contribute to this condition.
Addressing these modifiable risk factors can not only help manage ED but also boost overall health and wellness.
Cigarette smoking narrows the blood vessels, impairing blood flow throughout the body. Over time, this can result in erectile difficulties.
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to ED. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercises, enhances cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of ED.
Diets high in processed foods, saturated fats, and sugars can impact cardiovascular health, leading to reduced blood flow. Conversely, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can promote better heart and vascular health, which is critical for preventing ED.
Being Overweight or Obese:
Excess weight, especially around the midsection, is linked to several health issues that can lead to ED. These include diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of ED.
This condition, characterised by high blood pressure, high insulin levels, body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol, increases the risk of ED.
This is the single-most common presentation I see in middle-aged, male executives. It is a ticking bomb for premature heart attacks in the 50-60 age group as well as a modifiable cause of ED.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption:
While low to moderate alcohol consumption isn’t linked to ED, chronic heavy drinking (>2 standard drinks daily) can damage the liver, nerves, and other conditions that can exacerbate ED.
Chronic Inflammation and ED:
An often-overlooked factor is the role of chronic inflammation in ED. Many of the above risk factors, particularly poor diet and obesity, are associated with a pro-inflammatory state in the body.
This inflammation can harm endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels. These cells produce nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that plays a pivotal role in achieving an erection by allowing blood vessels in the penis to dilate.
Sadly, Viagra’s journey has strayed from its original medical model. The focus shifted from treating ED as a disease to using it as a recreational drug.
In my life I have been blessed to have been surrounded by very positive male role models from my father, to close male friends, colleagues and my husband and now my son.
This is why I am passionate about promoting a message of health and longevity for men, as well as highlight how these are intimately linked to their ability to perform (both in the bedroom and in the boardroom, if you’ll excuse the pun).
Isn’t it time we elevate the conversation around ED?
Instead of seeing it as a taboo topic or fodder for jokes, could we recognise it as a crucial barometer of our men’s health and wellbeing?
Please help me share this important message with the significant men in your life.