Erectile dysfunction (ED) may be over twice as likely in people who use electronic cigarettes compared to those who have never vaped, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Significantly, this association between vaping and impotence appears to be completely independent of age, cardiovascular health, and other risk factors.
Cigarette smoking is well known to contribute to ED, although it remains unclear whether Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) – otherwise known as e-cigarettes or vapes – pose a similar risk. To investigate, the study authors gathered data on 13,711 US males over the age of 20 who had taken part in the nationwide Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study.
Just over 20 percent of participants had experienced some level of ED, although daily ENDS users were 2.4 times more likely to suffer from the condition than those who had never vaped.
The study authors then conducted a second analysis on a slightly smaller sample of 11,207 men between the ages of 20 and 65 who had no history of cardiovascular disease or other risk factors for ED. Within this group, 10.2 percent reported experiencing erectile dysfunction, although once again vapers were 2.2 times more susceptible to sexual misfiring than those who had never used ENDS.
“Given that many people use e-cigarettes as a form of smoking harm reduction or to help them with smoking cessation, we need to fully investigate the relationship between vaping products and erectile dysfunction, and potential implications for men’s sexual health,” explained study author Omar El Shahawy in a statement.
“Our analyses accounted for the cigarette smoking history of participants, including those who were never cigarette smokers to begin with, so it is possible that daily e-cigarette vaping may be associated with higher odds of erectile dysfunction regardless of one’s smoking history.”
A deeper look at the data revealed that the association between ENDS and ED held true for participants with normal body mass index and no history of heart disease, suggesting that vaping may pose a risk even to those who are in perfectly good health.
The researchers explain that nicotine is known to prevent vasodilation and restrict blood flow, which is likely to contribute to ED. Like cigarettes, some vape liquids contain nicotine, although many do not. However, the authors point out that even those that contain no nicotine have been shown to curtail testosterone levels in rodents by inhibiting two key enzymes that are needed in order to synthesize steroids.
While these findings are concerning, the authors concede that their study relies on self-reported data, which may not always be entirely accurate. They also did not take into account the potential influence of other medications like anti-depressants that may contribute to ED in some members of their sample.
Summing up the significance of this research, El Shahawy concludes that “our findings underscore the need to conduct further studies to contextualize the e-cigarette use pattern that is relatively safer than smoking.”