Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition. It’s estimated to affect about 30 million men in the United States. Men with ED have a hard time getting and keeping an erection.

For most men, being unable to get or maintain an erection happens occasionally. ED is diagnosed when a man consistently has this difficulty.

ED is caused by a number of different factors, including poor heart health. High levels of cholesterol can affect your heart health.

Can treating the high cholesterol also help treat ED? Research shows that it may have a slight effect.

The most common cause of ED is atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the blood vessels.

Many things can lead to atherosclerosis, including high cholesterol. That’s because high levels of cholesterol in the blood can cause a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. That, in turn, can narrow these blood vessels.

Researchers have also found a link between ED and high cholesterol, which is otherwise known as hypercholesterolemia. The link isn’t fully understood yet, but it has led researchers to explore the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs for the treatment of ED.

Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. In a 2017 study on rats, researchers noted improved erectile function following the treatment of high cholesterol with atorvastatin (Lipitor). Lipid levels remained unchanged.

The researchers concluded that better erectile function was not the result of a decrease in cholesterol levels, but rather an improvement in the endothelium. The endothelium is an interior surface in the blood vessels.

An earlier literature review from 2014 also found evidence that statins may improve ED over time.

On the other hand, a 2009 study found evidence suggesting that lipid-lowering medications may cause or aggravate ED. In more than half of the identified cases, men recovered from ED after they stopped taking statins.

A 2015 cohort analysis didn’t find an association between statins and an increased risk of ED or sexual dysfunction. ED is also not listed as a common side effect of statins. More research is needed to better understand the connection between statins and ED.

Eating foods high in cholesterol won’t necessarily affect your blood cholesterol levels. That said, what you eat can still have an effect on your ED. Recent studies suggest that eating a healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet in particular, can lead to improved symptoms.

Staples of the Mediterranean diet include:

Some of the items you should avoid:

A chronic vitamin B-12 deficiency may also contribute to ED, so try to add foods rich in B-12 to your diet. Consider taking a B-12 supplement too. Read more about the connection between diet and ED.

Shop for vitamin B-12 supplements.

Other risk factors for ED include:

Some medications can also lead to erection problems. These include:

You should visit your doctor as soon as you notice any erection problems. ED is usually a sign of an underlying health issue, so it’s important to identify the cause before it becomes more serious.

Watch for ED symptoms such as:

  • the inability to get an erection when you want to have sex, even if you can get an erection at other times
  • getting an erection, but being unable to maintain it long enough to have sex
  • the inability to get an erection at all

High cholesterol doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms, so the only way to diagnose the condition is through a blood test. You should have routine physicals so that your doctor can diagnose and treat any health conditions in their early stages.

Your doctor may also request certain laboratory tests, such as a testosterone level test, and a psychological exam to diagnose your ED.

There are different ways you can manage ED, from everyday lifestyle changes to daily medications. Treatment options for ED include:

You can also use medications to manage the symptoms of ED, including:

vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn)

  • the injectable form of alprostadil (Caverject, Edex)
  • the pill suppository form of alprostadil (MUSE)

In addition to diet, there are other lifestyle changes that may help to reduce high cholesterol levels and improve ED. Try these options:

Walking more

Walking 30 minutes per day can drop your risk of ED by 41 percent, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Staying physically fit

Obesity is a significant risk factor for ED. A 2014 study found that 79 percent of men who were considered overweight or obese had erectile problems.

Being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can help you prevent or treat ED. That also means quitting smoking and limiting how much alcohol you drink.

Exercising your pelvic floor

Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor may help you maintain an erection for longer. Learn more about Kegel exercises for men.

Researchers haven’t determined that high cholesterol is a direct cause of ED, but the condition may contribute to erection problems. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce your cholesterol levels, which may also lower your chances of developing ED.

Speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your cholesterol or erectile issues. They can help you come up with a treatment plan that works best for you.