How is the penis a good indicator of health?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, says that keeping a penis healthy isn't just important for making sure your love life is working. It's important for making sure your entire body is working. "The penis really is the dipstick of the body," he says. "The penis tells you if everything's working, because if it's not working, the odds are stuff inside of you is not functioning the way it's supposed to be."

To know if everything's functioning, you need to know how an erection works. First, arteries leading to the penis open up, letting blood rush in, which engorges the penis. "But something else happens that is really subtle," Dr. Oz says. "What drains the penis are these very thin veins. They get squeezed off so the penis can't let the blood come out again. That's why it gets big and hard and stays that way."

This process is controlled by a gas called nitric oxide, which relaxes the arteries and allows the process to start.

If you've watched any professional sporting event on television in the past few years, you've certainly seen an advertisement for drugs that treat erectile dysfunction. In fact, Dr. Oz says that it is estimated that more than half of men over age 40 have had some difficulties getting or maintaining an erection at some point.

While erectile-dysfunction drugs affect nitric-oxide levels, they do have some side effects. "There are issues with some of the heart drugs folks may be on," Dr. Oz says. "And [men] ought not to use it for recreational purposes -- because if everything's working down there, it's only going to be a placebo effect. And you're not going to get a bigger or a harder erection by taking it."

But is there any way to prevent problems like that before they start?

One thing that can help keep your body working is garlic, due to a chemical called allicin, which works only when it's raw. "You need something that's an antidote to [the garlic]. So parsley, for those of you who are going to try this, will actually block some of that taste," Dr. Oz says. "Because otherwise you're not going to be close enough to anybody to figure out if it makes a difference."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.