Moving to a quiet street may be one of the best things you can do for your sex life, if the results of a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine is anything to go by.
Researchers at Guangzhou University, China, tested the effects of motor vehicle exhaust (VE) on erectile performance – at least, in rats. Their verdict: Pollution is not good for erectile function. Or, indeed, health in general.
For the study, the rats were split into four groups of 10 individuals, each exposed to different levels of VE over a three-month period. The first group (the control) were not exposed to VE at all, whereas the other three were exposed to VE for two hours, four hours, and six hours a day, five days a week, respectively. When the three months were up, researchers tested the rats for lung function with a Forced Pulmonary Maneuver System and for erection function using electrical stimulation.
The team found that those exposed to VE for four or six hours experienced "significant reduction of erectile function", measured in terms of intracavernous pressure (ICP). The two groups displayed reduced ICP of 38.6 percent (four hours) and 45.6 percent (six hours), in comparison to the control group.
The researchers put this poor performance down to a combination of systemic inflammation, pulmonary dysfunction, and reduced levels of nitric oxide synthase in the erectile tissue. But while recent research has linked respiratory disease to sexual function, they have been careful to point out that this is speculation and needs further study.
Of course, it should also go without saying, but the tests were performed in rats (not humans) and while there is a good reason for using animal models, it is always best to take the findings with a pinch of salt until they have been confirmed in clinical trials. This is particularly true as previous studies have shown a positive correlation between exposure to pollution and erectile dysfunction in rats that hasn't necessarily translated into significant correlations in human beings.
"The major limitation of our preliminary study is our VE exposure model, although traffic exhaust was the main source of urban air pollution, [we] could not entirely mimic the natural condition of ambient air pollution," note the team in the study. "On the other hand, we acknowledge that the concentration of the pollutants in our study is too high and lacks a 'dose response.'"
They also note that further well-designed studies are needed to corroborate these findings. Still, even if you take erectile function out the equation, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that exposure to high (or even moderate) levels of pollution can have a negative effect on your health, from depression to obesity to premature death.
Pollution may even have a detrimental effect on our intelligence.