Foods that Affect Testosterone Levels

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A number of studies suggest that exposure to industrial pollutants may affect sexual function, for example, loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, and impotence. This may be due to effects on testosterone levels. In a study of men who ate a lot of contaminated fish, an elevation in PCB levels in the blood was associated with a lower concentration of testosterone levels. These pollutants are found predominantly in fish, but also meat and dairy. The lowest levels are found in plants (see Dietary Pollutants May Affect Testosterone Levels).

Testosterone doesn't just play a role in the determination of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair at puberty. It also regulates normal sexual functioning and the overall physical and psychological well-being of adult men. Abnormally low levels of testosterone can lead to decreased physical endurance and memory capacity, loss of libido, drop in sperm count, loss of bone density, obesity, and depression.

Endocrine-disrupting compounds that build up in fish may be able to mimic or block hormone receptors, or alter rates of synthesis or breakdown of sex steroid hormones. In children, these pollutants may actually impair sexual development. Boys who are exposed may grow up with smaller penises (although only by about two-thirds of an inch shorter at most). Researchers have tried exposing cells from aborted fetal human penises to these kinds of dietary pollutants, and gene expression related to genital development is indeed affected at real-life exposure levels. We're not sure if the effects on penis length are due to the pro-estrogenic effects of the toxins, though, or the anti-testosterone effects.

You've heard of save the whales? Well, male reproductive organs may be at risk from environmental hazards as well.

I previously addressed how we discovered the endocrine disruptor phenomenon in Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, as well as where they're found (Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors).

For more on sustaining male virility, see Male Fertility and Diet, The Role of Diet in Declining Sperm Counts, and Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility.

I've talked about the role a plastics chemical may play in male sexual functioning (BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction). But it's not just toxins, it's the total diet (Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death), and not only in men (Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction). My latest on the topic is Best Foods to Improve Sexual Function.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. Image has been modified.

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Foods that Affect Testosterone Levels

Foods that Affect Testosterone Levels.jpeg

A number of studies suggest that exposure to industrial pollutants may affect sexual function, for example, loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, and impotence. This may be due to effects on testosterone levels. In a study of men who ate a lot of contaminated fish, an elevation in PCB levels in the blood was associated with a lower concentration of testosterone levels. These pollutants are found predominantly in fish, but also meat and dairy. The lowest levels are found in plants (see Dietary Pollutants May Affect Testosterone Levels).

Testosterone doesn't just play a role in the determination of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair at puberty. It also regulates normal sexual functioning and the overall physical and psychological well-being of adult men. Abnormally low levels of testosterone can lead to decreased physical endurance and memory capacity, loss of libido, drop in sperm count, loss of bone density, obesity, and depression.

Endocrine-disrupting compounds that build up in fish may be able to mimic or block hormone receptors, or alter rates of synthesis or breakdown of sex steroid hormones. In children, these pollutants may actually impair sexual development. Boys who are exposed may grow up with smaller penises (although only by about two-thirds of an inch shorter at most). Researchers have tried exposing cells from aborted fetal human penises to these kinds of dietary pollutants, and gene expression related to genital development is indeed affected at real-life exposure levels. We're not sure if the effects on penis length are due to the pro-estrogenic effects of the toxins, though, or the anti-testosterone effects.

You've heard of save the whales? Well, male reproductive organs may be at risk from environmental hazards as well.

I previously addressed how we discovered the endocrine disruptor phenomenon in Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, as well as where they're found (Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors).

For more on sustaining male virility, see Male Fertility and Diet, The Role of Diet in Declining Sperm Counts, and Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility.

I've talked about the role a plastics chemical may play in male sexual functioning (BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction). But it's not just toxins, it's the total diet (Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death), and not only in men (Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction). My latest on the topic is Best Foods to Improve Sexual Function.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. Image has been modified.

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Preventing and Treating Low Back Pain With Diet

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Low back pain became one of the biggest problems for public health systems in the Western world during the second half of the 20th century. The lifetime prevalence of low back pain is reported to be as high as 84 percent, and chronic low back pain is present in about one in five, with one in ten being disabled. It's an epidemic.

Are people just lifting more heavy stuff? No. "[M]echanical factors, such as lifting and carrying, probably do not have a major role in this disease." Atherosclerosis can obstruct the arteries that feed the spine, and this diminished blood flow can result in various back problems. This can be seen on special scans. Check them out in my video, Back in Circulation: The Link Between Sciatica and Cholesterol, where you can see the difference between normal and clogged spinal arteries. I also show what they look like on autopsy, where we can see the openings to the spinal arteries getting squeezed shut by cholesterol-filled plaques.

Now we have MRI imaging that can show the occlusion of spinal arteries in people with back pain and the degeneration of the discs. Researchers showed that patients with long-term lower back pain had constricted blood flow, and those with high cholesterol appeared to suffer with more severe symptoms. Those with narrowed arteries appear about eight and a half times more likely to have suffered from chronic back pain.

Although disc degeneration has multiple causal factors, with genetic, occupational and mechanical influences, alteration in nutrition has been proposed as the final common pathway. This makes sense. The discs in our lower back are the largest "avascular" tissue in the body, meaning our discs don't have any blood vessels. Thus, its nutrition just kind of diffuses in from the margins, making it especially vulnerable to deprivation. Using MRIs, we can measure the effects of impaired blood flow on that diffusion. Because of this vulnerability, discs degenerate far earlier than other musculoskeletal tissues; the first unequivocal findings of degeneration in the discs of the lower spines are seen starting around age 11. Nearly all kids have the beginnings of atherosclerosis by age ten (Heart Disease Starts in Childhood). By the early teen years, we can already see the disks starting to deteriorate. By age 49, 97 percent of the discs of those eating the standard American diet show at least grade-2 degradation.

Cholesterol plaques in the wall of the aorta obliterate the openings of spinal arteries. Structures with precarious nutrient supply, such as the intervertebral discs, may suffer and gradually degenerate, as well as herniate. There is a link not only between cholesterol levels and disc degeneration, but between cholesterol levels and disc herniation.

This compromised blood flow may also damage the nerve roots that come off the spine, causing sciatica. Sciatica is back pain that radiates down the legs, causing additional pain, numbness or weakness, and prolonged disability. Sciatica affects as many as 1 in 20 people. Independent of weight, clinical sciatica may be associated with blood cholesterol levels as well. The nerve roots, which are most commonly associated with sciatic pain, are supplied by some of the arteries most vulnerable to atherosclerotic plaque formation. Obliteration of these arteries by cholesterol buildup results in compromised nutrient supply to the nerve itself. That lack of oxygen to the nerve may play a role in the sciatica nerve crying out in pain. Reduced blood flow also hampers the removal of waste products, such as lactic acid, which can irritate the nerve endings causing pain and deterioration.

Sadly, low back pain is now common in children and adolescents, and getting worse. It's like children now getting disorders like adult-onset diabetes. Teenagers starting out their lives with a chronic disease. That's why it's never too early to start eating healthier.


Just like back pain can be an indicator of clogged arteries, so can erectile dysfunction: Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death. Thankfully, the clogs in our arteries can be reversed! See, for example:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

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Rinse Your Mouth After Sour Foods and Drinks

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Hibiscus tea has been found to be as effective at lowering blood pressure as a leading hypertension drug without the potential side-effects (which include everything from lack of strength to impotence, including rare cases of potentially fatal liver damage). Hibiscus, though, may have adverse effects of its own.

As I've reviewed previously in Plant-Based Diets: Oral Health, people who eat plant-based diets appear to have superior periodontal health, including less gum disease and fewer signs of inflammation, like bleeding. However, they also have twice the prevalence of dental erosions, areas on the teeth where the enamel has thinned due to more frequent consumption of acidic fruits and vegetables. Therefore, after we eat something like citrus, we should swish our mouths with water to clear the acid from our teeth.

This includes beverages. I'm a big fan of hibiscus tea, but it's not called "sour tea" for nothing. In a study highlighted in my video, Protecting Teeth from Hibiscus Tea, researchers at the University of Iowa dental school tested 25 different popular teas and found two with a pH under 3 (as acidic as orange juice or coca cola): Tazo's passion and Bigelow's red raspberry, both of which contain hibiscus as their first ingredient.

To see if these teas could actually dissolve teeth, the researchers took 30 extracted molars from people and soaked them in different teas. And indeed, out of the five teas tested, the greatest erosion came from the tea with the most hibiscus. The researchers left the tooth sitting in the tea for 25 hours straight, but this was to simulate a lifetime of exposure. The bottom line is that herbal teas are potentially erosive, particularly fruity and citrusy teas like hibiscus. To minimize the erosive potential, we can use a straw to drink the beverage. And as I mentioned above, after consuming an acidic food or drink we should also rinse our mouth with water to help neutralize the acid.

For more on the effects of hibiscus on blood pressure, see the previous video, Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension.

Are there other potential downsides to tea drinking? That's the topic of my videos: Is There Too Much Aluminum in Tea? and How Much Hibiscus Tea is Too Much?

For more on avoiding drug side-effects by choosing more natural treatments can be found in videos like:

For more on diet and oral health, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: T.Kiya / Flickr

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The Dietary Link Between Acne and Cancer

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Acne is an epidemic skin disease of industrialized countries, reaching prevalence rates of over 85 percent of teenagers. In nearly half of American men and women, acne even continues after adolescence and into the third decade of life.

Acne is considered a disease of Western civilization, as in places like Okinawa, Japan, acne is rare or even nonexistent. So acne is not some "physiological" phenomenon of puberty, but may represent "a visible risk indicator pointing to aberrant nutrient signaling promoting chronic epidemic diseases of civilization," according to a group of German researchers (See Saving Lives By Treating Acne With Diet). What they mean is that the dairy, junk foods, meat, and egg proteins in Western diets all conspire to raise the activity of the enzyme TOR, contributing to acne and obesity. Therefore, using diet to suppress TOR may not only improve acne, but may also prevent the march to more serious chronic TOR-driven diseases of civilization. The excessive TOR stimulation induced by the standard American diet may initially manifest as premature puberty and acne, but then may later contribute to obesity, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's.

A lot of this research is relatively new. Until recently, for example, only a weak association had been accepted for the role of milk and dairy products in acne formation. However, there is now substantial evidence supporting the effects of milk and dairy products as enhancers of acne aggravation. Milk is not just food, but appears to represent a most sophisticated hormone signaling system activating TOR, which is of critical concern given that TOR is recognized as the fundamental driving force for a number of serious chronic diseases.

If milk is naturally supposed to stimulate TOR, why the problem? Because we're drinking milk from the wrong species. Cow's milk is designed for calves. Baby cows grow nearly 40 times faster than human infants. Cow's milk has three times more leucine, the primary activator of TOR, than breast milk, so cow's milk may over-stimulate TOR when consumed by humans. It's like giving donkey milk to rats--it doesn't make sense. Furthermore, milk is for babies, so the continued consumption of any kind of milk during adolescence and adulthood is something that never really happened naturally and may have long-term adverse effects on human health.

In this regard, it's kind of frightening to realize that more than 85 percent of teens in Western countries exhibit acne; it implies that the "majority of our population is living with over-activated TOR signaling, a major disease-causing factor, which may pave the way for the development of other more serious diseases." A history of acne has been associated with breast cancer risk in women, for example, and prostate cancer in men.

So early dietary counseling of teenage acne patients is thus a great opportunity for dermatologists, who will not only help to improve acne but may reduce the long-term adverse effects of Western diet on more serious TOR-driven diseases. So just like urologists use erectile dysfunction as an opportunity to save lives by putting people on heart-healthy diets, dermatologists can use acne as a way to save lives by putting people on a cancer prevention diet.

How do you turn acne on and off via dietary manipulation of TOR? A "comprehensive dietary strategy to treat acne can only be achieved by higher consumption of vegetables and fruit and reduction of animal-derived food" given preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of natural plant-derived TOR inhibitors in the treatment of acne.

TOR is considered the engine-of-aging enzyme detailed in Why Do We Age? and Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction, as well as my video Prevent Cancer From Going on TOR.

I've touched on this topic before in Acne and Cancer and covered acne and dairy in:

Urologists saving the lives of men is detailed in Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death and 50 Shades of Greens.

What else are Okinawans doing right? See The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: coniferconfier / Flickr

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Pistachios May Help Erectile Dysfunction

Pistachios May Help Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is a major cause of decreased quality of life in men—so much so that one early theory suggested that this may explain the link between impotence and heart attacks. Depression is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, and the thought was that men who couldn’t get it up become so depressed that they die of a broken heart.

Now we know that erectile dysfunction and heart disease can be two different manifestations of the exact same root problem, diseased arteries—inflamed, oxidized, cholesterol-clogged blood vessels (See Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death). So it’s no wonder that a diet chock-full of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering plant foods would improve sexual functioning in both men and women, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease (See 50 Shades of Green). A completely plant-based diet can even stop and reverse our number one killer (See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic).

Of all the plant foods individually examined so far, nuts appear most tied to longevity. Just two handfuls a week may extend a woman’s life as much as jogging four hours a week (see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer). So, if nuts reduce the risk of heart disease, might they also help with sexual dysfunction?

In my video, Pistachio Nuts for Erectlie Dysfuntion I outline a study where men eating three to four handfuls of pistachios a day for just three weeks experienced both significant improvement in blood flow through the penis and significantly firmer erections. This is not surprising. Antioxidant-rich foods have a Viagra-like effect of boosting nitric oxide production. (See The Power of NO). Also, the citruline in watermelons helped with erection firmness by boosting arginine, (See Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction), which is what our body makes nitric oxide out of.Pistachios have a bunch of both antioxidants and arginine, which may help explain the improvement in blood flow.

We also know that cholesterol is an important predictor of sexual dysfunction in both men and women (See Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction), and after just three weeks, those eating pistachios had significant improvements in cholesterol. And like other studies that piled on hundreds of calories of nuts a day, there was no weight gain. (For more on this remarkable effect, see my videos Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence, Solving the Mystery of the Missing Calories, and Testing the Pistachio Principle). Conclusion: “Just three weeks of pistachios resulted in a significant improvement in erectile function with additional improvement in cholesterol without any side effects.”

Note the two important differences between diet and drugs. Drugs like Viagra just cover up the symptoms of the underlying problem–unhealthy arteries. Eating whole healthy plant foods like nuts actually helps attack the root cause—cholesterol, oxidation, and inflammation—and has only good side effects.

The enzyme that Viagra-like drugs inhibit is found primarily in two places in the body: the erectile tissue of the penis and the retina of the eye. That’s why the FDA encourages people to stop taking drugs like Viagra, and “call a doctor right away if you experience sudden loss of vision.” (Assuming you can still find your phone.)

Though the harms (such as cyanopsia in which everything in our vision suddenly becomes tinted blue) tend to be self-limited and reversible, why risk side-effects at all when the problem can be reversed and cured in the first place, improving the quality and quantity of our lives?

I discuss the epidemic of adverse prescription drug side-effects in my 2012-13 annual review Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and my new 2013-14 live presentation More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.

In addition to improving penile blood flow, nuts may also help prevent breast cancer (Tree Nuts or Peanuts for Breast Cancer Prevention?), inflammatory diseases (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), sudden death (How Do Nuts Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death?), and lengthen one's lifespan (Nuts May Help Prevent Death). 

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here.

Image Credit: miss iona lion / Flickr

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Foods for a Long Life and Love Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foods for a Long Life and Love Life

Motivating patients to change poor lifestyle habits can be extremely difficult. Preventing cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes is a relatively distant benefit, whereas barbecued ribs, cheesecake, or sitting on our butts promises almost instant gratification. Public health experts are now hoping that prevention or improvement of erectile dysfunction could be a more immediate motivator that physicians can use to improve their patients’ lifestyles and in turn their overall cardiovascular health. That’s how doctors can save a life during a clinic visit for erectile dysfunction. (See Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death).

We used to think of erectile dysfunction in young men in their 20s and 30s as psychogenic in origin, meaning it’s all in their heads. But now we’re realizing it’s more likely an early sign of vascular disease. But even when the penis heads in the wrong direction, the heart need not follow. Atherosclerosis in both organs can be reversed with lifestyle changes. We know that "a substantial body of knowledge demonstrates that the abundant consumption of vegetables, fruit, and whole grain, and the dietary patterns rich in these foods, convey a markedly lower risk of coronary disease." In a study profiled in my video, 50 Shades of Green, a group of researchers tried putting impotent men on a Mediterranean diet, which includes an abundance of plant-based foods. After two years on the Mediterranean diet, 37% of the men regained normal sexual function. What is it about the diet that appeared to do it? Improvements in erectile function were tied to five things: increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and essentially the ratio of plant fats to animal fats.

Similar benefits were found for women. The same kind of diet significantly improved sexual function, together with a significant reduction of systemic inflammation. As a whole, these findings "suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet may be a safe strategy for amelioration of sexual function" in women with pre-diabetes or diabetes, who found significant improvement in sexual satisfaction on the healthier diet. For more on preventing sexual dysfunction in women in the first place, see Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction. The improvement in sexual functioning is thought to be because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of plant-based diet.

Check out my related video: Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.

Other benefits of increased fiber intake may include improved bowel function (Bristol Stool Scale) and frequency (Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet), lower colorectal cancer risk (Stool Size Matters), lower breast cancer risk (Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen and Fiber vs. Breast Cancer), lower blood pressure (Whole Grains May Work as Well as Drugs), lower blood cholesterol (How Fiber Lowers Cholesterol), weight loss (Beans and the Second Meal Effect) and a longer lifespan (What Women Should Eat to Live Longer).

A similar Mediterranean diet failed to help fibromyalgia in the short term (see Fibromyalgia vs. Mostly Raw & Mostly Vegetarian Diets), but diets that were even more plant-based were found to be beneficial: Fibromyalgia vs. Vegetarian & Raw Vegan Diets. 

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: Jon's Pics / Flickr

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Pills vs. Diet For Erectile Dysfunction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Pop Pills For Erectile Dysfunction. Help Your Heart, Instead

Erectile dysfunction is the recurrent or persistent inability to attain and/or maintain an erection in order for satisfactory sexual performance. It is present in up to 30 million men in the U.S. and approximately 100 million men worldwide. The U.S. has less than 8% of the world’s population, yet up to 30% of the impotence? We're #1!

But hey, we’ve got red, white, and blue pills like Viagra. The problem is that the pills just cover up the symptoms of vascular disease and don’t do anything for the underlying pathology. Erectile dysfunction and our #1 killer, coronary artery disease, are just two manifestations of the same disease: inflamed, clogged, and crippled arteries, regardless of which organ it affects (See Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death).

Atherosclerosis is considered a systemic disorder that uniformly affects all major blood vessels in the body. Hardening of the arteries can lead to softening of the penis because stiffened arteries can’t relax, open wide, and let the blood flow. Thus erectile dysfunction may just be the flaccid "tip of an iceberg" in terms of a systemic disorder. For two-thirds of men showing up to emergency rooms for the first time with crushing chest pain, their penis had been trying to warn them for years that something was wrong with their circulation.

Why does it hit the penis first? Because the penile arteries in the penis are half the size of the coronary artery in our heart. So the amount of plaque we wouldn’t even feel in the heart could clog half the penile artery, causing symptomatic restriction in blood flow. That’s why erectile dysfunction has been called “penile angina.” In fact, by measuring blood flow in a man’s penis we can predict the results of his cardiac stress test with an accuracy of 80%. Male sexual function is like a penile stress test, a “window into the hearts of men.”

Forty percent of men over age forty have erectile dysfunction. 40 over 40. Men with erection difficulties in their 40s have a 50-fold increased risk of having a cardiac event (like sudden death). I said before that various things increase heart disease risk by 20% or 30%. That’s nearly 5000%, leading the latest review to ask, “is there any risk greater?” That’s because it’s not so much a risk factor for atherosclerosis as atherosclerosis itself. A man "with erectile dysfunction (even if he doesn’t have cardiac symptoms) should be considered a cardiac patient until proven otherwise."

Erectile dysfunction is considered to be a cardiac equivalent; it’s a marker of the coronary artery one likely already has. Thus, there’s more to treating ED than establishing an erect penis; it offers an opportunity for reducing cardiovascular risk. The reason even young men should care about their cholesterol is because it predicts erectile dysfunction later in life, which in turn predicts heart attacks, strokes, and a shortened lifespan.

Thankfully, Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped. Check out my video on Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death. More background can be found in Arterial Acne and Blocking the First Step of Heart Disease.

Related videos include: 50 Shades of Green and Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.

Previous videos on the subject include:

A similar relationship appears to exist for female sexual function as well. See my video: Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: sea turtle / Flickr

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