To address the connection between the two, the researches of Soochow University in Jiangsu, China, and colleagues combined twelve earlier studies of impotence and heart disease, covering nearly 37,000 men. "This meta-analysis ... suggests that erectile dysfunction significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke and all-cause mortality, and the increase is probably independent of conventional cardiovascular risk factors," scientists wrote in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
They found that men with erectile problems had a 48 percent increase in their risk of developing heart disease, and also had higher death rates than men who didn't have sexual problems.
Traditional risk factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure didn't explain the link, strengthening the case that impotence, when it isn't due to partnership problems or other psychological issues, is a risk factor for heart disease in its own right.
But another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that both lifestyle changes and cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins appeared to improve men's erectile problems -- but only a little.
Men who exercises more or were put on a Mediterranean diet rich in whole grain, fruits, vegetables nuts and olive oil, for instance, reported a 2.4 point improvement on a 25-point scale of erectile problems.
Those put on statins saw a similar improvement of 3.1 points, said Bhanu Gupta and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The results were based on six trials with 740 participants.
"The results of our study further strengthen the evidence that lifestyle modification and pharmacotherapy for cardiovascular risk factors are effective in improving sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction," scientists wrote.
They added that lifestyle changes appeared to work regardless of whether the men were taking Viagra, the most common drug to treat impotence, or not.