Oh, the madness of erectile dysfunction. Seems like there are stiff problems surrounding the pharmaceutical and herbal remedies meant to treat this malapropos malady. According to new reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, taking the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra can bring on sudden hearing loss. A review done by the governmental agency found that 29 cases of sudden hearing loss were reported with use of these three drugs, with two thirds of the cases being ongoing.

And if that ain’t bad enough, researchers in Hong Kong report that many “herbal remedies” sold over-the-counter have untested variants of the same pharmaceutical agents named above. The illegal analogues of sildenafil and vardenafil (Viagra and Levitra respectively) are produced with minor changes to the chemical structures and then added to, or more accurately–concealed in–the supposedly natural mix. Unfortunately, chemical variants are neither tested nor reviewed by regulatory bodies, like the FDA, as patented pharmaceuticals are, and this can lead to problems.

For instance, a previously healthy 28-year-old man was recently hospitalized with an unsteady gait (called ataxia–a neurological issue) and frequent falling. It was discovered that he had been taking an anti-impotence “health product” for over a week before showing those symptoms. Funny that a healthy young buck would need an anti-impotence drug. But as you all know from my podcast on lifestyle drugs (Episode 3), many a young stud is taking erectile dysfunction drugs to enhance performance. Bad, bad idea, Padners.

For men who truly suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), let it be known that problems with impotence may underlie an even more serious problem–heart trouble or vascular disease. Erectile dysfunction, or the inability to gain an erection is the result of poor circulation to the penis. In fact, drugs like Viagra work precisely by increasing blood flow–vasodilation it’s called–which allows the penis to engorge with blood. Failure to do so means that the body has encountered an obstacle, most likely a problem with the pump. So simply treating ED with drugs isn’t the answer. On the contrary, not only may it mask the true issue, but that kind of cover up can also prevent men from seeking out the care they really need; or prevent them from changing their lifestyle to promote good heart health.

Unfortunately, many doctors are missing this connection. Not a surprise considering the mass volume of impotence drugs prescribed every year. Furthermore, many men with erectile problems aren’t aware of the vascular implication, so they don’t discuss it in depth with their physicians. According to Dr. R. Parker Ward, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the cardiology clinic at the University of Chicago Hospitals, and lead author of the study linking ED to heart disease, “We as physicians should be asking about, and men should be reporting to their physicians, symptoms of ED, so it can be considered as we work to modify their risk — treat blood pressure, cholesterol more aggressively, advise healthy lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy diet.” Always better to treat the cause than to put on a band-aid, I always say. And this is one of those situations where a band-aid can ultimately cost you your life.

So if your having trouble standing up to the task, take it as a firm warning–get your heart checked, start exercising, and start eating a healthy, wholesome diet. And please be cautious of purchasing that “natural” impotence herb you’ve been considering. Chances are it’s not all that natural.

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