About Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED), a condition where a man has difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection, occurs in 18 percent of men over the age of 20, according to research published in the February 2007 issue of “The American Journal of Medicine.” According to this research, this problem becomes more common as men age -- as many as 70 percent of men age 70 and older report this concern. However, ED is not considered a normal part of aging. In most cases, there is a physical cause -- the most common being poor blood flow to the area. Men with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are more likely to suffer from ED. The penis needs sufficient blood flow to become erect, and these conditions often damage the blood vessels or constrict blood flow to the organ. Since ED is so common, dietary substances such as caffeine have been suspected of contributing to this problem.
Caffeine and Blood Flow
Because caffeine can act as a vasoconstrictor, a substance that narrows blood vessels, it has been postulated to worsen ED. But the effects of caffeine on blood flow may seem a bit contradictory. Initially, a mild constriction of blood flow can occur, but this effect is temporary and not common in habitual caffeine consumers. Caffeine primarily acts as a vasodilator, which means it improves blood flow -- which can be beneficial to ED. Caffeine also stimulates the central nervous system, causing a sudden burst of energy and alertness. Interestingly, caffeine is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world. Caffeine is consumed in the diets of 89 percent of US adults on a daily basis, with 70 percent of this caffeine consumption coming from coffee, according to a study published in the May 2015 issue of “American Society for Nutrition.”
Caffeine and Erectile Dysfunction
Since caffeine is found in beverages that have additional health effects, such as the beneficial antioxidants in coffee and tea, or the less beneficial sugars in energy drinks, it can be challenging for researchers to tease out which effects are caffeine-related and which effects are from other substances. Coffee, for example, contains hundreds of compounds that can impact human health. A review article published in the September 2013 issue of “Journal of American College of Cardiology” reported that regular coffee consumption was either neutral or beneficial to a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease, diabetes and death from all causes. Caffeine seems to also favorably influence ED. A study published in the April 2015 issue of “PLoS One” analyzed self-reported data from over 3700 men, and linked 2 to 3 daily cups of coffee daily to a reduced risk of ED.
Warnings and Precautions
Caffeine intake equivalent to 2 to 3 cups of daily coffee appears to be have neutral or beneficial health effects in most people, and does not appear to cause ED. However, excess caffeine can cause symptoms such as sleep disruptions, headaches, anxiety and palpitations -- strong or rapid heartbeats. If you have any health problems, are pregnant or have trouble sleeping and want to include caffeinated beverages, discuss caffeine use with your doctor. Also, because caffeine pills or powder have the potential to provide harmful, even lethal doses of caffeine, these should be avoided unless specifically recommended by your doctor. Finally, if you have ED, see your doctor for advice and treatment options.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD