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Moderate Drinking Linked to Lower Levels of Erectile Dysfunction

Study finds hard evidence that responsible alcohol consumption does not cause impotency

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: February 3, 2009

The results of a recent study may lift the spirits of men who drink in moderate amounts. Researchers in Western Australia have found, after analyzing a survey of men, that erectile dysfunction is not linked to one's drinking habits.

This may come as a surprise to many, since alcohol has been considered a cause of male impotence for centuries. In Australia, locals colloquially refer to impotency as "brewer's droop."

"Alcohol consumption is a contentious social topic and is often assumed to have deleterious effect on sexual performance," wrote the study's authors, in the January issue of International Society for Sexual Medicine. "There is a lack of consensus on whether alcohol consumption may in fact be beneficial to erectile function."

The researchers, most of whom are affiliated with the University of Western Australia, suggest that the idea is not so far-fetched, since moderate alcohol consumption is linked to better cardiovascular health. Therefore, it may also aid the function of vascular organs, such as the penis. Furthermore, erectile dysfunction (ED) is closely linked to cardiovascular disease.

The purpose of the study, lead by Kew-Kim Chew, an ED researcher with more than 10 years of experience, was to try and measure the relationship between alcohol consumption and impotency. The researchers pulled data from 1,580 participants in the Western Australia Men's Health Study, a survey of local males, ages 20 to 80. That study, completed in December 2002, found that ED is widespread among men and that heart-related ailments and smoking are major risk factors for the condition.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), doctors have struggled to find an accurate estimate of how many men living in the United States struggle with impotence. The NIH suggests that the number is anywhere between 15 million to 30 million. However, the problem is either growing or more men are willing to report it these days, especially as new pharmaceutical treatments have come on the market. In 1985, eight of every 1,000 doctor's office visits by men were made specifically to seek treatment for ED. By 1999, that rate had grown to more than 22. The frequency of the condition normally increases with age and additional factors such as stress.

In the Australian health survey, participants included information on their drinking and smoking behavior, as well as answers to questions on their erectile function. "Our findings suggest that men who consumed alcohol appeared to have lower odds of erectile dysfunction [when compared to non-drinkers] if the level if alcohol consumption is within the guidelines for low-risk drinking," said Chew. "This implies, in Australia, up to four standard drinks a day on not more than five days a week."

The study defines a standard drink as a 12- to 13-ounce serving of beer, a 3- to 4-ounce glass of wine or a 1-ounce serving of spirits. The study did not categorize alcohol by different types of beverages in order to compare.

Men who drank alcohol within these levels were nearly 30 percent less likely to report impotence problems, regardless of age. Men who drank alcohol but did not smoke were almost 50 percent less likely to report problems than smokers. In fact, any level of alcohol consumption seemed to be linked to a lower risk of ED, but Chew was quick to clarify the implications of the study.

"The message from our article is that alcohol drinkers with erectile dysfunction do not need to carry a sense of guilt about their past or current drinking with respect to their dysfunction and that doctors do not have to counsel them against alcohol, if the level of alcohol consumption is within the guidelines for low-risk drinking," he said.

"High-risk drinking is known to be associated with adverse health effects and socioeconomic and other implications," he added. "Our findings do not suggest that non-drinkers should commence drinking with the idea of improving sexual performance." Furthermore, the study has limitations. No followup inquiries were made to the men after the study for more information. And men are not always fully open to answering questions about impotence.

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