Having high cholesterol not only poses serious risks to your health such as stroke and cardiovascular disease, it can affect your sexual life and performance as well.
There are 5.6 million Australian adults who have high total cholesterol according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and more than 2.7 million Australian men were found to have high cholesterol in 2011-12.
Given the prevalence of high cholesterol among Australians it probably comes as little surprise that we see so much health disease and disorders – one of which is erectile dysfunction, or ED for short, which is estimated to effect some one million Australian men.
It’s a disorder that affects young and old men alike, with symptoms of ED being either or both psychological and physiological, and tending to have underlying health conditions.
Some of the most common physical causes of ED are diabetes, heart disease, vascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Common psychological factors are stress and worry, difficulties in the relationship and psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Sometimes lifestyle factors like not getting enough sleep, being overworked or drinking too much booze can also influence sexual performance and be cause for ED. For many men the fear of being able to perform can further compound the problem of ED.
While there are many medical treatment options available for ED such as prescription medication, hormone therapy, injections and surgery, there are as many effective natural therapies that can be used to improve erectile function. In fact it’s a sure bet that if you treat the cause rather than the symptoms of ED through natural remedies and lifestyle changes, you will not only help improve the condition but effectively improve your health and lower your risk of serious disease in the process.
With the prevalence of high cholesterol at concerning levels among Australians, it’s important to examine the condition to gain a better understanding of what it is, the connection it has with ED and some natural ways to reduce its levels.
Links between high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction
High levels of cholesterol are well known to play a role in erectile dysfunction. The effects of high cholesterol in men can have adverse impacts on our sexual health and libido.
How high cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, impacts erections is primarily by two mechanisms. First, high cholesterol and other lipid disorders create arterial plaque that restricts blood flow. The fat deposits along the arterial walls which can cause a narrowing of the tiny arteries in the body. As a consequence, there is inadequate circulation of blood and blood flow through to various organs and tissues in the body including the genital area and penis. The result is poor ability to get and maintain erections.
The other mechanism by which high cholesterol affects erections is through inadequate blood flow to the testes. Again the culprit is fatty deposits forming in the arteries of the testicles resulting in vasoconstriction and restricted blood flow to the area. The limited blood flow results in impaired testicular function and lowered testosterone secretion results. Therefore, anything that restricts blood to the testes affects the rate of testosterone production needed in various signaling pathways for proper erectile function.
What is cholesterol?
We often talk about cholesterol as the enemy to good health. It’s reasonable to think this given the western diet and lifestyle is often cause for the high prevalence of disorders and disease of all kinds, including dangerous elevated cholesterol.
However, not all cholesterol is bad. In fact cholesterol is vital to our health and plays an important role in various functions of the body. Cholesterol is needed to produce the body’s sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, make vitamin D, assist in the production of bile, regulate inflammation, support immunity, and build and maintain the structure of cell membranes.
Cholesterol in our body comes from both our diet and produced in the liver. There are two main types of cholesterol. These are the high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and the low-density lipoproteins (LDL). LDLs carry the cholesterol into the bloodstream from the liver where it is made while HDLs transport cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down. It’s for this reason that LDLs are referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol as they are more likely to clog blood vessels and play a primary role in the risk factors for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Whereas HDLs are the ‘good’ cholesterol as they act as a scavenger to carry the bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver.
It’s important to realise that measures of total blood cholesterol are the sum of both LDLs and HDLs. Ideally while we aim to lower our total cholesterol levels, we don’t want the HDLs to fall too low as these are the good guys we need for our health and we don’t want the LDLs to rise too high.
On this basis the recommended cholesterol levels to aim for are:
- total cholesterol levels – lower than 5.5 mmol per litre (mmol/L)
- LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels – lower than 2.5 mmol/L
- HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels – at least 1.0 mmol/L or higher.
Signs of high cholesterol
The thing with high cholesterol levels is there are often no warning signs until it’s too late. This is why high cholesterol is commonly referred to as the ‘silent killer.’ People die unnecessarily and unexpectedly due to having high cholesterol.
With this in mind it is far better to be aware of the risk factors of high cholesterol such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, poor diet, smoking and a family history of familial hypercholesterolemia.
The best way to check your cholesterol levels is to visit your doctor for a simple blood test. Your blood test results provide your doctor with all the necessary information to determine your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, and any underlying conditions that might be contributing to ED issues.
Ways to lower cholesterol
The goal of any treatment for high cholesterol is to lower its levels, in particular LDLs. While there are various conventional medical treatment options to control high cholesterol, there are some natural remedies along with lifestyle changes that can be as effectively therapeutic.
Regular physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity three or five times a week for 30 to 40 minutes duration has shown to be an effective intervention for improving cholesterol levels. A 2014 study published in New Zealand’s Sports Medicine journal showed the benefits of aerobic exercise and resistance training for improving lipid profiles, including increases in HDL cholesterol and reduced LDL cholesterol levels.
Body weight management plays an important role in overall health and should be an essential part of any cholesterol treatment plan. Being overweight or obese is one of the leading contributors to high total cholesterol, affecting about one in three (37.3%) Australians.
Thus losing weight should be the aim of anyone who is overweight or obese and wants to reduce their cholesterol levels. And one of the best ways to achieve a healthy bodyweight besides exercise is a healthy diet.
This may mean consuming more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, high fibrous foods and omega-3 fatty acids. It could mean eliminating trans fats from your diet, limiting your consumption of foods high in saturated fats, and moderating your alcohol consumption.
You can also consider adding supplements or herbs and spices to your arsenal of natural remedies for cholesterol management.
Four herbs that lower cholesterol
There’s some evidence that shows food and herb therapies can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. The below is a brief outline of what we see as three very well-known effective foods for their therapeutic qualities where controlling cholesterol is concerned.
Garlic is generally considered to be a superior herb when it comes to lowering cholesterol. Studies have shown this popular herb can effectively regulate cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming in the body. The effects of garlic on lowering cholesterol can increase dramatically the more often it is consumed. Garlic also has many other health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, boosting immunity and acting as a detoxifier and antioxidant in your body.
It appears ginger has a lot more use to it than a seasoning in your meals or tea. Ginger has so many medicinal properties and health benefits that it is often called the ‘wonder spice’. Include ginger in your diet to help lower your cholesterol, as well as treat indigestion, reduce muscle pain, lower blood sugars, improve brain function, fight infections and provide anti-inflammatory effects.
Alfalfa is a versatile herb that can be added to salads, sandwiches, soups and other recipes. Sometimes called Buffalo Herb, Alfalfa is considered a powerhouse among herbs for its strong medicinal properties. Alfalfa is a great source of many nutrients including vitamins, minerals and amino acids which make it a very effective natural medicine to treat, among many things, cholesterol and blood pressure. The herb is also used to detoxify blood, improve metabolic health, alleviate allergies, relieve arthritis, promote healthy digestion and treat inflammatory conditions.
Turmeric root can actually help to decrease the cholesterol levels in your body, thus helping to decrease the risk of serious heart problems and increase circulation down stairs. Eating more chicken curry is a great idea, thanks to the health benefits of this amazing herb. There are many hormonal benefits of eating turmeric. To learn more check out this post (Hormonal benefits of eating turmeric (does turmeric increase testosterone levels?).
There are synergistic effects to using these foods , herbs and other therapies to lower cholesterol. And these treatments will provide effective remedies to help treat ED. But much more, by following a healthy diet and lifestyle as part of an effective treatment strategy to lower your cholesterol, you will invariably improve your health and wellbeing generally, and enhance your overall quality of life.