Although it largely affects older men - around 50% of men aged 40-70 may experience some form of it, it also affects around 20% of men under 40.
After looking at data from 1,790 men between the ages of 20 to 85 who participated in the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the US, they found the disorder may be a marker for heart disease.
They also cross referenced the survey data with death certificates from the National Death Index through 21 December 2011.
Scientists posed the question: "How would you describe your ability to get and keep an erection adequate for satisfactory intercourse?"
They found that 557 of the survey respondents had the disorder, and after eight years, 244 had died - just under 50%.
Sixty one of those deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease, 64 from malignant neoplasms, 12 from chronic lower respiratory diseases and the remainder from a range of causes.
Although the findings placed the increased mortality risk quite high at 70%, the authors of the paper caveated it by saying that it should be interpreted with caution as among the evaluated sample of 1,790 adults, only 61 adults between 20 to 49 years had erectile dysfunction, and among these 61 patients, only four died during the follow-up period.
Erectile dysfuntion can be caused by physical or psychological problems. The NHS says that the following may be responsible:
- narrowing of the blood vessels going to the penis – commonly associated with high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol or diabetes
- hormonal problems
- surgery or injury
- relationship problems
Although it can be a difficult condition to talk about, the NHS advises chatting to your GP if you are concerned you have it.
There are possible treatments depending on the cause of it, but in the case of narrowing of the arteries (which can be one of the most common causes of ED), losing weight and making healthier food choices might be a good fix.
In some cases, it may alo require medication, and they write that "vacuum pumps that encourage blood to flow to the penis and cause an erection are also successful in 90% of cases."
If the root cause is psychological, then cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which you can get through the NHS or privately if you prefer has been hailed as a success as well as couples therapy.
Reassuringly, it is possible to have the sex life you once had.
Leafy green vegetables, like celery and spinach, may increase circulation because of their high concentration of nitrates. Beet juice has been found to be really high in nitrates. Nitrates are vasodilators, which means they open up blood vessels and increase blood flow. Many years before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first ED drug in 1998, several case reports on the beneficial effects of nitrates for erectile dysfunction had already been published. The ED drugs used today are based on the relaxing effects of nitrates on the blood vessels that supply the penis.
A recent study in the journal Circulation found that flavonoids in dark chocolate improve circulation. That could be good for erection problems that are due to poor circulation. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring antioxidants that protect plants from toxins and help repair cell damage. Studies show that flavonoids and other antioxidants have similar effects on people. They may help lower blood pressure and decrease cholesterol, both of which are factors that contribute to erectile dysfunction.
A recent study found that men with erectile dysfunction who ate pistachio nuts every day for three weeks experienced significant improvement in sexual issues, including ED, sexual desire, and overall sexual satisfaction. The benefits of pistachios for erection problems may be due to a protein called arginine, which may help relax blood vessels. "This is another example of how good circulation is good for sexual health, which is good news because I eat a lot of pistachios," says Dr. Daneshgari.
The oyster has always had an aphrodisiac reputation. One reason may be that oysters have high levels of the mineral zinc, which plays an important role in the production of the male hormone testosterone, and low levels of testosterone could be one reason for erectile dysfunction. Research presented at an American Chemical Society meeting may offer another connection: Raw shellfish contain compounds that stimulate the release of sexual hormones in both men and women.
Some studies show that watermelon may have effects on erectile dysfunction that are similar to the ED drug Viagra and may also increase sexual desire. Watermelon is rich in beneficial ingredients known as phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are also antioxidants. One of their benefits is that they relax the blood vessels that supply an erection. Although watermelon is 92 percent water, the other 8 percent may work wonders for your heart and your sexual enjoyment.
Lycopene is one of those phytonutrients that is good for circulation and good for sexual issues. Lycopene is found in deep red fruits like tomatoes and grapefruits. Some studies show that lycopene may be absorbed best when mixed with oily vegetables like avocados and spinach. So you might want to make yourself an ED-fighting salad. Research also shows that antioxidants like lycopene help fight male infertility and prostate cancer.