THURSDAY, March 23, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Smoking can shorten lives, and a new study finds it may also hamper men's sex lives.
Researchers say men who smoke a pack of cigarettes or more a day are nearly 40 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction compared with nonsmokers.
"Smoking accelerates atherosclerosis and is a potent risk factor for heart disease. It just stands to reason that what harms blood vessels in one area of the body harms them in other areas, too," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.
He was not involved in the study, which was conducted by British and Australian researchers, and reported in the March issue of Tobacco Control.
In the study, the researchers collected data on nearly 8,400 men aged 16 to 59 years who participated in the Australian Study of Health and Relationships.
Of these men, almost one in 10 said that he had had erectile problems lasting a month or more in the past year. More than 25 percent of the men smoked. One in five smoked a pack a day or less, and just over 6 percent smoked a pack a day or more, the researchers found.
The researchers discovered that, compared with nonsmokers, men who smoked one pack or less a day were 24 percent more likely to report difficulties maintaining an erection. Those who smoked more than a pack a day were 39 percent more likely to report erectile difficulties.
Other conditions associated with erectile dysfunction included older age and cardiovascular disease. Moderate drinking significantly reduced the risk of erectile dysfunction, the researchers noted.
Katz said that fear of erectile dysfunction might help motivate men to quit smoking. "Perhaps men not motivated to quit smoking for fear of heart attack or lung cancer will be motivated by this," he said. "It may be difficult to quit smoking, but it almost invariably proves far more difficult to live with the consequences of not doing so," he added.
Another expert agreed that smoking increases the risk of impotency.
"Other studies have shown that smokers are likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction," said Dr. Joseph DiFranza, a professor of family medicine at the University of Massachusetts. "It's nice to have another study that confirms that."
"Smoking certainly doesn't make you macho," DiFranza said.
Results of another study suggested that heavy smokers who also have a low dietary intake of antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, are at an increased risk for developing the degenerative lung ailment known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In their study, researchers at INSERM, in Paris, collected data on the breathing ability of nearly 1,200 men and women. They also collected data on blood levels of antioxidants.
While lung function declined over the years of the study for all participants, those who had high blood levels of vitamin E and beta carotene had significantly better lung function compared with those whose blood levels of these antioxidants were low, the researchers reported.
Over eight years, the researchers found that the worst decline in lung function was among people who smoked a pack or more of cigarettes a day and had low blood levels of vitamin E and beta carotene.
Reporting in March issue of the British journal Thorax, the researchers concluded that beta carotene may reduce some of the damage caused by oxygen free radicals. In addition, both beta carotene and vitamin E may help to reduce the damaging effects of heavy smoking on the airways, they said.
"Subjects who sustain heavy smoking and continue to have low antioxidant levels are probably at very high risk of developing COPD," the researchers wrote. "These powerful antioxidants may help to reduce oxidative stress -- one of the factors thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of COPD -- and thus may contribute to reducing the risk of morbidity and mortality related to this disease."
There's more on erectile dysfunction at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.