High Cholesterol Has An Unexpected Effect On A Man's Sex Life

High cholesterol, characterized by having too much of the wax-like fatty substance in your system, has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to check your cholesterol levels. That being said, sometimes men might see an unexpected effect of having high cholesterol when it comes to intimacy. More specifically, they might experience erectile dysfunction. 

The way high cholesterol influences a man's sex life is nuanced at best. While the condition itself might not lead to erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the blood vessels brought on by the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. Atherosclerosis is one of the main causes of erectile dysfunction, per a 2017 study published in Prostate International. 

Atherosclerosis can lead to coronary artery disease and other health conditions like angina, heart attack, and stroke too. Endothelial dysfunction — problems with dilation of blood vessels — is one of the warning signs of coronary artery disease, and this can also lead to ED, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. There is also some association between high cholesterol levels and low testosterone in men (although the science behind it isn't entirely clear yet). Low testosterone levels could translate to low sex drive in men. Understanding how to manage high cholesterol to prevent erectile dysfunction first means understanding cholesterol levels. 

Cholesterol levels and what they mean

All the cholesterol in your body is not bad. In fact, cholesterol serves the important function of helping your body produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

Having healthy cholesterol levels means having higher levels of what is known as "good" or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lower levels of "bad" or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered normal, while 200 to 239 mg/dL is thought to be borderline high, and 240 mg/dL or higher is considered high cholesterol, per UpToDate. Both your diet and your liver contribute toward the total cholesterol in your blood. As for LDL, less than 100 mg/dL is considered optimal, while 190 mg/dL and above is considered very high. With HDL, the desirable amount to have is 60 mg/dL or above.

Consuming heart-healthy foods like omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber, eliminating or reducing saturated and trans fat content, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption are all considered to be the best ways to lower high cholesterol without medication. However, sometimes, medications are part of the treatment plan. Speaking of medications, there is some science related to a man's sex life and statin consumption. Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed cholesterol medications.

Do cholesterol-lowering drugs cause erectile dysfunction?

If men are experiencing erectile dysfunction because of atherosclerosis caused by high cholesterol, consuming statins could actually help improve the condition. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has even looked at a more general use for this cholesterol-lowering drug to treat ED. 

However, there is also some science pointing toward how statins work to lower cholesterol levels and why this might contribute to problems in your sex life. Statins work by suppressing the amount of cholesterol made by your liver and also by helping the liver remove cholesterol already in your blood. This might lead to lower testosterone levels and possible issues with erectile function, according to a 2019 study published in the World Journal of Men's Health. In fact, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are listed as uncommon side effects of this popular cholesterol-lowering drug, while more common side effects include headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive issues, muscle pain, and sleep issues. 

That being said, experts believe that the evidence pertaining to statins and high cholesterol points more toward the former helping improve erectile function than impairing it. Either way, it is important to understand that a lot of unexpected things can happen to your body when you have high cholesterol. Regularly monitoring your levels, embracing healthy lifestyle choices, and looking for problems in the bedroom could help you stay ahead of this health condition.