Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor for erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence. In fact, in 2014, the acting surgeon general of the United States added erectile dysfunction to the list of health problems that can be caused by smoking. Among men under the age of 40, cigarette smoking is the biggest cause of erectile dysfunction.
Erection results from increased blood flow to the penis. This blood fills up the spongy tissues of the penis, making it become firm and erect. Restriction of blood flow to the penis can lead to impotence, an inability of a man to achieve and maintain an erection. The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is restriction of blood flow to the penis. Tobacco smoke toxins hurt the endothelial cells that line the arteries, thus shrinking the blood flow through the penile artery, and keeping blood flow restricted for up to 4 hours. Even worse, about 7 out of 10 cases of erectile dysfunction are due to disease that has already partially blocked the arteries that take blood to and through the penis.
Surprisingly, the dreaded condition called impotence or ED (for Erectile Dysfunction) can actually serve as a warning that, if heeded, may save a man's life. Milton Mills MD calls impotence the "canary in the coal mine." When impotence shows up, the heart attack may be less than 2 years away, because the penile artery is even smaller than the heart arteries. If the penile artery gets clogged, the heart arteries are probably getting clogged also.
Cigarettes contain a number of chemicals, including nicotine, arsenic, acetone, and carbon monoxide, that can trigger the formation of plaques and damage the blood vessels within the penis. This plaque narrows the blood vessels, preventing arteries from relaxing to accommodate more blood to flow into the penis, thereby making it more difficult to get or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual intercourse. In addition, cigarette smoke generates free radicals and other chemicals that reduce the production of nitric oxide, a compound necessary for the maintenance of a firm erection because nitric oxide dilates arteries.
Erectile dysfunction is quite a common problem among men. According to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 30 million men in the United States are battling with erectile dysfunction. Men who smoked are at higher risk of suffering from this condition compared to men who have never touched a cigarette.
The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to slow the risk of artery damage by quitting tobacco and by adopting a vegan diet. Putting a stop to cigarette smoking may make the difference between having a wonderful night versus a frustrating night with your partner.