Once upon a time, there was a little blue pill. Its inventors were trying to treat heart disease and prevent heart attacks and found that the little blue pill could dilate blood vessels. The theory was that angina or chest pain could be decreased when more red blood cells carrying oxygen were delivered to heart muscle cells through the dilated coronary vessels. Though good in theory, since it works for nitroglycerin, clinically, the little blue pill wasn’t very effective.
The little blue pill wasn’t very specific as to where it dilated blood vessels. Not only were heart vessels dilated, but so were blood vessels in other places, and this side effect became its claim to fame. Blue Pill hit the market as the first treatment for erectile dysfunction and was a superstar.
It was also becoming a superstar in the athletic world. Studies with cyclists and mountain climbers found that at high altitude, the little blue pill dilated blood vessels in the lung and allowed more oxygen to be extracted from the air, increasing the oxygen concentration in the bloodstream. This translated into faster and stronger training. All of a sudden, the little blue pill moved from the bedroom to the playing field…please insert your own performance-enhancing joke here.
And so we have the latest revelation that baseball players are loading up on Viagra. No big surprise, since Viagra has been a hit on the pro cycling tour for a while, and baseball usually lags behind by a couple of years. History reminds us of anabolic steroids and growth hormone.
The theory is simple. Aerobic metabolism needs oxygen and glucose to occur. During training and competition, if more oxygen can be delivered to a muscle, then it can maintain a higher level of activity before switching over to anaerobic metabolism (when the oxygen supply runs out). Lactic acid, the byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, is a death sentence for performance. The acid-base balance within the muscle cells is upset, and muscle contraction stops. Recovery time is needed to flush the acid and restore normalcy to the cell and to the muscle as a whole.
There are a variety of ways of increasing oxygen delivery to cells, and most have to do with increasing the number of red blood cells in the body. The more red cells, the more oxygen molecules that can be delivered to a muscle with each heartbeat. But one should be wary of too many red cells, since they can cause sludging in the blood vessels and lead to bad things like stroke and heart attack.
The legal way to increase the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream is to move to a high altitude. The body recognizes the lower oxygen concentration in the air and stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red cells. Instead of moving, you could sleep in a tent with lower oxygen levels. (Nike has a built a whole house for some of their athletes.)
Less than legal ways to increase red blood cell numbers include blood doping, in which blood transfusions are used to increase the blood count or injecting erythropoietin, the hormone in the body that stimulates the bone marrow.
When winning is dependent on a tenth of a second, or a fraction of an inch, the athlete will look for an extra edge. Sometimes that extra edge is needed to remain on the roster instead of being cut or demoted to the minor leagues. Some athletes look for that little extra within themselves by working harder or training longer. Others look for that edge with performance-enhancing drugs.
Blue Pill has more than a few side effects, but those who choose to go the route of drug enhancement have already made their own deal with their conscience; a few minor or major side effects won’t deter them. Even death is an acceptable risk. Ask a potential Olympian whether they would trade years of their life for a gold medal. Researchers have asked, and the answer, of course, is yes. The only question left was…how many years?
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Causes and Treatment
What Is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a man has persistent problems achieving and/or sustaining an erection. Erectile dysfunction can make sexual intercourse impossible without treatment. Erectile dysfunction can first emerge in a man as early as 40 according to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study on sexual dysfunction. They also found that an estimated 18 to 30 million men are affected by erectile dysfunction.
Does Erectile Dysfunction Mean Poor Libido?
Erectile dysfunction refers specifically to problems achieving or maintaining an erection. Other forms of male sexual dysfunction include poor libido and problems with ejaculation. Men with erectile dysfunction often have a healthy libido, but their bodies fail to respond in the sexual encounter by producing an erection. Usually there is a physical basis for the problem.
Can Low Testosterone (Low T) Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
While low T isn’t the only cause of erectile dysfunction, the two do seem to be connected. However, the connection between low testosterone and erectile dysfunction is complicated. Researchers believe two are connected because they both seem to coincide as a man ages. However, some men with low testosterone continue to produce healthy erections.
Erectile Dysfunction Symptoms
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include erections that are too soft for sexual intercourse, erections that last only briefly, and an inability to achieve erections. Men who cannot have or maintain an erection at least 75% of the time that they attempt sex are considered to have erectile dysfunction.
Who Gets Erectile Dysfunction?
Sexual dysfunction is more common as men age. According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, about 40% of men experience some degree of inability to have or maintain an erection at age 40 compared with 70% of men at age 70. And the percentage of men with erectile dysfunction increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. erectile dysfunction can be treated at any age.
The Mechanics Behind Erectile Dysfunction
When blood fills two chambers in the penis (known as the corpora cavernosa) an erection occurs. This causes the penis to expand and stiffen, much like a balloon as it is filled with water. The process is triggered by nerve impulses from the brain and genital area. Anything that interferes with these impulses or restricts blood flow to the penis can result in erectile dysfunction.
Diseases That Can Lead to Erectile Dysfunction
The link between underlying chronic disease and erectile dysfunction is most striking with diabetes. Approximately half of the men with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction. Nevertheless, good blood sugar control can minimize this risk.
In addition, the following four diseases can lead to erectile dysfunction by interfering with blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Kidney disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Lifestyle Choices Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction
Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and obesity can impair blood circulation and lead to erectile dysfunction. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis even more vulnerable to erectile dysfunction. Smokers have almost twice the risk of erectile dysfunction compared with nonsmokers. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to erectile dysfunction. Men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of erectile dysfunction.
Surgery Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction
Surgical or radiation treatments for prostate cancer, bladder cancer, or prostate enlargement (BPH) can sometimes damage nerves and blood vessels near the penis. Occasionally, the nerve damage is permanent and the patient requires treatment to achieve an erection. Sometimes, surgery causes temporary erectile dysfunction that improves on its own after 6 to 18 months.
Medications That Cause Erectile Dysfunction
Many medications can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, including certain blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. Men with erectile dysfunction should talk with their doctor if they suspect a prescription or over-the-counter drug may be causing erectile problems.
Born This Way? Physiology and Erectile Dysfunction
It is common for men with erectile dysfunction to have an underlying physical basis for it, particularly in older men. However, psychological factors may be present in 10% to 20% of men with erectile dysfunction. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can impair the ability to have an erection. These factors can also make erectile dysfunction worse in men whose sexual dysfunction stems from something physical.