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03/31/2014 10:57 EDT | Updated 04/02/2014 11:59 EDT

Erectile Dysfunction Treatment: Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Can Help, Study Finds

Men with erectile dysfunction may see improvements in their sexual ability while taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to research out Saturday.

In the study presented at the American College of Cardiology conference, experts performed a meta-analysis on 11 previous randomized, controlled studies on erectile dysfunction and statins.

In them, men answered survey questions that scored their sexual ability on a five-point scale.

Among men who had high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction -- and who were taking statins -- there was a statistically significant increase in erectile function, amounting to a 24.3 percent boost in their self-reported scores.

"The increase in erectile function scores with statins was approximately one-third to one-half of what has been reported with drugs like Viagra, Cialis or Levitra," said John Kostis, director of the Cardiovascular Institute and associate dean for

Cardiovascular Research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

"It was larger than the reported effect of lifestyle modification," said Kostis, who was the lead investigator on the study.

The drugs may help erectile function by coaxing blood vessels into dilating properly and improving blood flow to the penis.

While statins are not recommended as a primary treatment for erectile dysfunction in patients with healthy cholesterol levels, the added benefit may encourage more men who need statins to take them.

However, he added that statins can also be a "double-edged sword," since previous research has shown they can decrease testosterone, which cuts back on sexual drive and energy.

The benefits of statins prevailed over the side effects in 10 of 11 studies reviewed, he said.

As many as 30 million men in the United States are believed to suffer from erectile dysfunction, which is more common in men over 40 and can be caused by heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, depression and stress.

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