3 minute read

Cholesterol and erectile dysfunction: the inconvenient truth

Cholesterol and erectile dysfunction

Did you know that a whopping 6 out of 10 people in the UK have high cholesterol, and that many of them don’t know they have it? A big part of the reason why high cholesterol often goes unnoticed is because it’s symptomless. Unfortunately, this means many people don’t take action about it until it’s too late. High cholesterol can cause heart attacks, stroke, and may even contribute to erectile dysfunction, so it’s a good idea to get your cholesterol levels measured with the Complete Blood Test to make sure your cholesterol levels are normal. 

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in the liver and is also found in some foods. Although it usually gets a bad rap, cholesterol plays important roles in the body such as making hormones and building cells. 

Cholesterol can’t travel around the body by itself, so in order to get around in the blood, it attaches to proteins to form lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoprotein: 

Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs): often referred to as “bad cholesterol”, LDLs make up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDLs increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

High-density lipoproteins (HDLs): this kind of cholesterol is usually called “good cholesterol” because it transports cholesterol back to the liver and removes it from the body. As a result, it can help to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Certain lifestyle factors, such as regularly eating foods high in saturated fat and not exercising enough, can raise your cholesterol levels. Further, genetic conditions like familial hypercholesterolaemia (a condition in which a person’s cholesterol levels are raised from birth) can also cause high cholesterol.   

How does high cholesterol cause erectile dysfunction?

Studies have shown that there is a link between high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction (ED). This is because cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, which, over time, causes them to become narrower. As a result, blood flow through the arteries becomes restricted, and this can have serious implications for the heart, brain, and, you guessed it, the penis. 

Erections occur when you become aroused and blood rushes into the penis to make it turgid (hard). Since strong erections depend on good blood flow, it may become harder (or impossible) to get and maintain an erection if the blood vessels supplying the penis become obstructed. This is why ED can sometimes be an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease, as clogged arteries can cause other serious conditions such as heart disease and strokes. 

How do I check my cholesterol levels?

The only way to test your cholesterol levels is with a blood test. One of the easiest blood tests you can use to measure your cholesterol is the Complete Blood Test. It's an easy finger-prick test that can be taken from home and includes a complete blood lipid test to assess your cholesterol and triglyceride levels (another molecule known to contribute to your risk of developing cardiovascular disease). 

Because cholesterol levels can fluctuate depending on your diet and level of activity, it’s recommended that you regularly monitor your cholesterol levels with an at-home blood test. This allows you to track the impact of lifestyle changes you make over the course of the year, helping you to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. 

The Complete Blood Test also tests for a range of other important health indicators (including your vitamin D level, diabetes risk, and testosterone level). What’s more, the blood test includes a free phone consultation with a UK doctor who will talk you through your results and give personalised health advice based on the outcome of your test. 

Is it possible to reduce my cholesterol level?

If you take a blood test and the doctor tells you that you don’t need to take any cholesterol-lowering medication to keep your cholesterol levels in check, then there are a few things you can do to help maintain normal cholesterol levels: 

  • Exercise regularly: doing just 21 minutes of exercise a day is enough to improve cholesterol levels. Both resistance training (weight lifting) and aerobic exercise (e.g. running, cycling, etc.) have been shown to increase “good” cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol. 

  • Eat healthily: minimising the amount of saturated and trans fats you consume in your diet can help to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Certain types of food - such as fast food and desserts - are often high in saturated fat, so it’s best to limit these foods to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If you're not sure where to begin, try our 7-day high cholesterol diet plan.

Eating foods that contain unsaturated fats (e.g. oily fish, nuts, and avocados) can also help to lower cholesterol levels. Further, some high-fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, oats, and fruit can also contribute to the reduction of cholesterol. 

The numan take

High cholesterol can cause serious health conditions such as heart attacks and stroke. It is also associated with erectile dysfunction, as it can clog the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis. As high cholesterol is symptomless, it’s important to regularly check your cholesterol with a blood test. You can help yourself maintain healthy cholesterol levels by exercising regularly and eating healthily