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Research has showed statins may increase erectile function by half as much as Viagra

Statins, the popular cholesterol-lowing drugs, may help men with erectile dysfunction.

Scientists at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have led the first meta-analysis of previous studies on the link between erectile dysfunction and the drugs.

Led by Dr John Kostis, the team analysed 11 trials to find a significant effect of statins on erectile function in men who had both high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. The results showed their erectile function scores increased.

It is understood that statins may work in the same way as Viagra by helping dilate blood vessels properly to improve vascular blood flow to the penis - which is restricted in men with erectile dysfunction.

Kostis said: "The increase in erectile function scores with statins was approximately one-third to one-half of what has been reported with drugs like Viagra, Cialis or Levitra."

He added the statin's effect was greater than that of testosterone or lifestyle modification.

Researchers and doctors have said statins were not recommended as a primary treatment for erectile dysfunction in patients with healthy cholesterol levels.

Erectile dysfunction affects an estimated 18 million to 30 million men worldwide and occurs more often in men over the age of 40. Common causes include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, depression and stress.

The University of Adelaide has also carried out a study on erectile dysfunction. Its results showed that the effects could be reversed through lifestyle changes.

Reducing alcohol intake, increasing physical activity, eating healthier and sleeping for longer were factors that increased erectile function, in a study of 810 men.

Prof Gary Wittert, who led that study, told South Africa's Times Live: "The major risk factors for this [erectile dysfunction] are typically physical conditions rather than psychological ones.

"The good news is our study found that a large proportion of men were naturally overcoming erectile dysfunction issues. The remission rate of those with erectile dysfunction was 29%, which is very high. This shows that many of these factors affecting men are modifiable."