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The fact that erectile dysfunction is far more prevalent than people want to admit to underscores the importance of discussing the topic, especially within the fitness and bodybuilding world. For some men, the explanation could be flagging testosterone levels, while with others, the use of anabolic steroids can significantly interfere with sexual performance.
Other causes of erectile dysfunction include idiopathic low testosterone levels, alcohol abuse, obesity, smoking, prostate issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Such medical issues are exacerbated by the use of anabolic substances, especially when cycled over an extended period of time. If a man is experiencing the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, a full history and physical should be performed along with lab work to determine the probable cause of the dysfunction. It is also critical for the sufferer to disclose the use of any anabolic agents or over the counter testosterone boosters, since any of those substances can interfere with normal sexual function.
It is important to bear in mind that when exogenous (outside of the body) testosterone is used, the body’s own production of endogenous testosterone ceases. This might be acceptable for the man who is suffering from clinically low serum testosterone, since he is truly unable to manufacture the amount of testosterone necessary for normal male function, but there are men out there with normal testosterone levels who foolishly decide to supplement with exogenous testosterone in an effort to glean the energy and mass boosting benefits which it promises. What often happens is that libido and physiological sexual response take a nosedive.
Other culprits in the loss of sexual function include anabolic substances, T3, diuretics, and estrogen blockers. Yes, that’s right…the substances which bodybuilders often turn to in order to optimize muscle growth will often rob them of the ability to perform sexually or even have any inkling of sexual desire. While some men might not care about such a loss of desire or function, others are devastated. A bodybuilder might have such a “nose to the grindstone” type of attitude with respect to training that he might not address the issue until a frustrated partner decides to bring the issue up and demands that he address it.
So why is testosterone so important anyway? Testosterone is a vital component in the production of erections. Though this is overly simplified, low testosterone essentially often equates with poor erectile response. Another phenomenon which occurs is that low testosterone levels abolish the ability of the body to aromatize some of the testosterone to estrogen, which activates the brain’s sexual arousal centers and also causes a corresponding vasodilation in the male member.
The great irony in all of this is that bodybuilders who look like they are the ideal representation of virility are often sexually debilitated as a result of androgen manipulation. When anabolic agents are taken over the long term, natural testosterone production plummets, the testes atrophy and erectile dysfunction often results.
For bodybuilders and non-athletes alike, the key is to obtain bloodwork from a physician who is experienced in diagnosing endocrine disorders. For non-athletes, serum studies are often more straight forward and reveal either low testosterone, high serum glucose, high cholesterol, or abnormal thyroid function. In contrast, a serum panel for a bodybuilder who has been flirting with anabolics for an extended period of time may have a cold dose of reality after seeing the results. At any rate, it is well worth the effort to ferret out the root cause of erectile issues.