Ex-NFL players with a history of head trauma are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) later in life, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that at least 20 percent of former professional football players reported having low testosterone levels or ED.
What’s more, the men who reported the most concussion symptoms were about twice as likely to have ED as those reporting the least number of symptoms.
The team, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, says it believe concussions may damage the area of the brain associated with testosterone production and that – if so – there can be an easy way to treat the condition.
A new study from Harvard University has found that men who reported the most concussion symptoms were twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction as those who reported the fewest. Pictured: Kevin Henry (76) of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles running back Fred Taylor (28) of the Jacksonville Jaguars, November 1998
ED occurs when a man has trouble getting and keeping an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse.
The condition can be brought on by stress, depression, limited blood flow to the penis, or as a side effect of serious illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
A lot of biological systems are involved and must be working properly for a man to get and maintain an erection.
So changes in the brain, hormones, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and emotional state or combinations thereof can trigger ED.
More than 18 million American men above age 20 are affected by erectile dysfunction, according to a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Treatments include lifestyle changes such as losing weight or stopping smoking, counseling, or taking drugs such as Viagra and Cialis.
For the new study, published in JAMA Neurology, the team looked at more than 3,400 former NFL players.
They were asked how often concussions or blows to head made them feel dizzy or nausea, have headaches, cause blurry vision or lose consciousness.
The players were also asked if they’d ever been recommended or prescribed medication for low testosterone or ED.
About 18 percent reported low testosterone, approximately 23 percent reported ED and just under 10 percent of participants reported both symptoms.
Researchers found that those with the greatest number of concussion symptoms had about double the risk of impotence compared to players with the least symptoms.
Even former players with a low number of concussion symptoms were at a significantly increased risk of low testosterone.
The team say this may mean there may not be a safe number of times to sustain blows to the head without risking changes to sexual performance.
‘We found the same association of concussions with ED among both younger and older men in the study, and we found the same risk of ED among men who had last played 20 years ago,’ said senior author Andrea Roberts, a research scientists at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
‘These findings suggest that increased risk of ED following head injury may occur at relatively young ages and may linger for decades thereafter.’
The risk remained even when researchers accounted for a player’s position and possible health conditions such as anxiety, depression, hypertension or obesity.
Researchers say one explanation for the link may be that concussions cause damage to the brain’s pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland is crucial to the body’s regulation of testosterone and semen production.
Lead author Dr Rachel Grashow, a research associate at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, says she wants the findings to break the stigma surrounding ED and encourages men to seek medical attention if it’s needed.
‘We want to say to them, look this isn’t a personal failure or a failure of your masculinity,’ she told CNBC.
‘It might actually be tied to a very specific biological mechanism that’s treatable.’