Ask Dr. K

May 21, 2012

Lifestyle changes are first step in treating ED

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a man in my mid-60s. Lately I've been unable to perform sexually. Are there non-drug strategies I can try before turning to medication?

DEAR READER: Even if you'd prefer to handle this drug-free, start with a trip to your doctor. There may be a straightforward explanation for your erectile dysfunction (ED), such as a side effect of medication. If this is the case, maybe the drug can be discontinued or a new one substituted that is less likely to produce ED.

If the cause is uncertain, the following lifestyle changes may help:

-- Start walking. Just 30 minutes of walking a day reduces your risk for ED. I've had several patients tell me that their erectile dysfunction disappeared after they started a moderate exercise program -- without any drugs.

-- Eat right. Make sure you're getting enough vitamin B-12, which can be found in multivitamins, fortified foods, salmon, beef and yogurt. A simple blood test can tell if your level of vitamin B-12 is low. A deficiency can cause ED.

-- Check your vascular health. The penis becomes erect because more blood enters it and causes it to swell. If the blood supply to the penis is impaired because of atherosclerosis in the arteries carrying blood to the penis, it can cause erectile dysfunction. Risk factors for poor vascular health include high levels of blood pressure, blood sugar (because of diabetes), LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.

-- Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to have atherosclerosis of the arteries supplying blood to the penis. They also are more likely to have neuropathy, or damage to the nerves that control how much blood enters and leaves the penis. So diabetes can be a double whammy. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can help slow the neuropathy.

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