Is High Cholesterol Harming Your Sex Life?

High cholesterol isn’t a disease, but if you have it you’re at risk for some serious health conditions.

High cholesterol can manifest with or without symptoms. And the No. 1 danger of this condition is that it clogs arteries, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis, which reduces blood flow and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.

But the reduced blood flow caused by high cholesterol also has been linked to sexual disorders.

Dr. Michael Krychman, the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship, said high cholesterol causes fatty deposits that clog blood vessels leading to the pelvic area. Men with high cholesterol sometimes end up with erectile dysfunction because they are not receiving enough blood flow to the penis, he explained.

"As soon as a man presents with erectile dysfunction, we begin measuring cholesterol and blood pressure," he said.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found throughout the body that is carried in blood particles called lipoproteins. An excess of cholesterol can lead to a complete blockage of the coronary artery, which will trigger a heart attack.

High cholesterol and its blood flow-restricting mechanisms long have been viewed as a factor in male sexual dysfunction but only recently emerged as culprits in female sexual disorders, Krychman said.

"In the past we used to think if a woman is having sexual problems, she’s frigid, and she needs to go home and have a glass of wine and relax," Krychman said. "However, there is emerging data associating underlying medical causes with female sexual dysfunction."

In women, the fatty deposits from high cholesterol may impact lubrication, causing painful intercourse and a lowered libido, said Krychman, who also is director of sexual medicine at Hoag Memorial Hospital.

Men and women who believe high cholesterol may be affecting their sex lives should consult a physician to rule out other causes, Krychman said.

Once cholesterol is determined to be the problem, doctors usually advise patients to seek dietary and lifestyle changes, such as eliminating saturated fat (found in fatty meat and eggs) from the diet, quitting smoking and increasing exercise.

If necessary, doctors may recommend a cholesterol-lowering medication, Krychman added.

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