As if impotence isn't depressing enough for many men, new research suggests that men with symptoms of depression are almost twice as likely to experience impotence as men who aren't depressed.
In the first study to scientifically examine the relationship between depression and impotence, researchers from the New England Research Institutes in Boston, Massachusetts, looked at data gathered from 1,265 men, ages 40 to 70, who had completed interviews for the Massachusetts Male Aging Study about their health and lifestyles, including questions about erectile dysfunction and depression.
Even after the scientists accounted for factors that are often associated with impotence, such as age and health status, men who had symptoms of clinical depression were almost twice as likely to report moderate to complete erectile dysfunction.
The researchers point out that they can't tell from this study whether impotence is contributing to depression or vice versa, because data was collected at one point in time. If impotence causes depression, then doctors should screen their male patients with erectile dysfunction for depression as well. On the other hand, if depression causes impotence, then they should screen their patients with depression for erectile dysfunction. Either way, it's important to be aware of the link between the two.
Meanwhile, researchers at the New England Research Institutes are carrying out new studies to sort out the "cause and effect" relationship between depression and impotence.
In a related study, doctors from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, report that severe depression in men changes the way the body produces sex hormones. The researchers analyzed blood samples from 15 men with major depression and 22 men who were not depressed.
Over a 24-hour period, the depressed men's blood had significantly less testosterone and more cortisol than those who weren't depressed. Testosterone is one of the primary male sex hormones, and cortisol is the body's main stress hormone.
The researchers believe that depression causes a disruption of the body's ability to produce the various hormones in the correct balance. This disruption, they say, may be partly responsible for impaired sexual function, as well as putting the men at greater risk for heart attacks and osteoporosis.