For Men, an Italian Recipe for Love-Making

It's no wonder that millions of men worldwide have been flocking to pharmacies to fill prescriptions (first for Viagra, now for Levitra and Cialis) to combat erectile dysfunction. The problem affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States alone. Now, researchers in Italy are offering a surprising solution to erectile dysfunction that's a lot more homespun: weight loss.

According to Naples investigators, it turns out that an overweight man whose body mass index (BMI) is more than 28.7 (at least 194 pounds for someone 5 feet 9 inches) has a 30 percent greater risk for developing erectile dysfunction than a man of healthy weight (fewer than 169 pounds at the same height). Not surprisingly, a number of conditions linked to excess weight are also linked to erectile dysfunction: vascular disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

To determine whether weight loss--and increased activity--sustained over a long period of time would improve erectile function, the researchers studied 110 obese men, ages 35 to 55. None had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

The men were randomly divided into two groups of 55 each. One group received detailed instructions, counseling, and training on how to reduce body weight by 10 percent or more by reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The other group was given general oral and written information about healthful food choices and exercise but no other training.

The men who received hands-on help lost an average of 33 pounds, compared to just 4 pounds in the other group. More to the point, about a third of them regained their erectile function after 2 years of adopting healthful lifestyle behaviors, whereas the other group remained essentially the same.

This is one of the first studies to suggest that erectile dysfunction, which can be treated but not necessarily cured with medications, surgery, or psychotherapy, may actually be reversible. In fact, University of California urologist Christopher S. Saigal, MD, MPH, was impressed enough with the results that in an editorial accompanying the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, he wrote that perhaps a weight-loss effort, rather than a trip to the drugstore, "should be the first-line treatment for obese patients with erectile dysfunction."

As many as four out of five impotent men are overweight or obese. Weight loss, which can certainly improve self-confidence along with blood vessel function, is certainly worth a try.

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