As human beings, we are no strangers to inflammation. Many conditions cause inflammation including infections, viruses, and wounds. Often, inflammatory responses are short-lived and go away once the trigger has been removed. However, sometimes, a person experiences more chronic or long-term bouts of inflammation, and this kind of inflammation can have more drastic side effects. Erectile dysfunction has been studied as a symptom of someone experiencing inflammation. In this article, we’ll explore how inflammation affects erectile functioning and what you can do about it.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is a response by our immune system in order to fight something foreign that has invaded the body. Symptoms of an inflammatory response include fever, rash, muscle pains, headaches, and respiratory symptoms (runny nose, tearing eyes, coughing, and even trouble to breathe like in asthma). Let’s break down the immune system to get a better understanding of just what is going on during an inflammatory response.
A person’s immune system is made up of different kinds of cells–mostly white blood cells. Different white blood cells have different jobs within the immune system, between detecting different kinds of germs and attacking those germs. For example, monocytes are a type of white blood cell that turns into macrophages. Macrophages eat bad bacteria. Neutrophils are another kind of white blood cell. They are considered the immune system’s first line of defense, lurking in tissue in order to detect harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria.
When an invader is detected, molecules called cytokines to send out messages to the immune system to begin its defenses. In a person with more chronic inflammation, cytokines often malfunction by signaling the immune system even when there is no actual germ to fight. In this case, white blood cells end up fighting healthy cells, tissues, and organs, causing a person to become sick due to their own body attacking itself. People who suffer from this kind of inflammation have conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis, and even allergies.
HOW DOES INFLAMMATION CONNECT TO ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION?
Research has moved in the direction of investigating hidden chronic inflammation behind major diseases like heart disease and diabetes. These diseases also correlate highly with erectile dysfunction. So what’s the connection?
An article published in the European Heart Journal in 2007 explains that a common denominator in the diseases that contribute to erectile dysfunction is endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial cells are found in the lining of blood vessels and produce nitric oxide, which causes the blood vessels to relax in order to increase blood flow. Increased blood flow is one of the important elements needed for an erection to happen. If the endothelial cells malfunction and don’t produce enough nitric oxide, then the blood vessels can’t relax and the extra blood flow needed to achieve an erection can be impeded.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is one element in the body that gets elevated during an episode of inflammation. It is called an inflammatory marker. CRP also prevents the production of nitric oxide, which we already established is important in allowing a person to have an erection. Thus, when CRP is elevated, nitric oxide production is diminished, and an erection becomes more difficult. A cytokine called Interleukin 6 (IL6) also reduces the production of nitric oxide, getting in the way of an erection occurring. This cytokine, as well as other cytokines, can be found in a more abundant amount during inflammation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT INFLAMMATION?
There are many ways to treat inflammation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing your diet. There are several anti-inflammatory diets out there that will help you avoid foods that tend to trigger the immune system and contribute to inflammation. If you have a chronic inflammatory disease or condition, it’s crucial that you visit a specialist who can help you reduce or even eliminate your inflammation with medication and lifestyle changes.
At Apex Health Center, our expert doctors work together with patients to get to the root of their erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction treatments are tailored to our patient’s specific needs and work best in conjunction with treatment for the underlying cause of your ED.