Issue 27 / 22 July 2013

IMPROVING Australian men’s awareness of the effects of modifiable lifestyle factors on erectile dysfunction and encouraging them to seek help should be a priority for health care providers, says a leading andrologist.

Professor Rob McLachlan, director of Andrology Australia, told MJA InSight research published in the latest MJA added weight to previous Australian and overseas data on the potential for lifestyle modification as a preventive strategy for erectile dysfunction (ED). (1)

The MJA researchers used data from the 45 and Up Study of NSW residents to quantify relationships between ED, ageing and health and lifestyle factors for 108 477 men. (2)

As well as replicating earlier studies confirming that the prevalence of ED increases with age — the odds of moderate/complete ED increased by 11.30% each year after age 45 — the study found the risk of moderate/complete ED was higher among men with low socioeconomic status (60.43% in those earning $19 000 or less per annum), marital status (43.12% in single men), high body mass index, those who were sedentary, current smokers and those with diseases including diabetes (62.46%), heart disease (60.58%) and depression/anxiety (48.83%).

Moderate alcohol consumption in men aged 45–54 years was associated with significantly reduced risk of ED, but that association weakened with increasing age.

“Almost all men aged 75 or older reported moderate/severe ED; however, increased physical activity was associated with a lower odds of ED in this group”, the researchers wrote.

Professor McLachlan welcomed the research saying it was “terrific to have more local data on ED and its risk factors”.

“The large cohort examined in this study gives a pretty comprehensive picture of the associations between ED and lifestyle risk factors such as body mass index and sedentary behaviour, and comorbid conditions, particularly diabetes.

“The similarities between these findings drawn from the NSW population and those from the [Men in Australia Telephone Study (MATeS)] of a representative sample of Australian men are striking, suggesting the findings are applicable nationwide”, he said. (3)

“The big challenge now is to increase the awareness of Australian men of the links between ED, chronic disease and modifiable risk factors, and to encourage men to seek help for ED.

“We also need to develop the evidence base for effective interventions for ED.”

The MJA study authors’ concurred, concluding that patients’ knowledge about risk factors for ED was “generally poor”.

However, they said that as ED might be an early symptom of disease and not just a quality-of-life issue, health professionals had a “crucial role in opening a dialogue about ED with men as they age”.

“This report also confirms the importance of a number of risk factors for ED that are potentially modifiable, and that may be associated with other longer-lasting health benefits.”

The authors acknowledged that the low response rate (18%) weakened their results and raised the “possibility that the prevalence of ED we report here may not be generalisable to the NSW population”.


1. MJA 2013; 199: 107-111
2. Sax Institute 2013; 45 and Up Study
3. Andrology Australia 2010; MATeS: Examining the Reproductive Health of Middle-aged and Older Australian Men

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