A healthy diet and exercise are two of the best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking, and sedentary behavior influence our chances of a heart attack and other heart problems. Now, researchers from the National Defense Medical Center in Taiwan suggest having sex several times a week may offset the effects of these bad habits on our heart health.

The link between more sex and a lessened risk of heart disease is believed to be associated with a decrease in homocysteine. This chemical, found in the blood, is a common sulfur-containing amino acid that's been established as a risk factor for heart disease. However, the researchers found having sex at least twice a week was correlated with lower traces of homocysteine in the men.

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"This is the first observational investigation stratified by sex to evaluate the correlation between sexual frequency and serum homocysteine levels," wrote the researchers, in the study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

High levels of homocysteine have been shown to increase the risk of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which could eventually result in a heart attack and/or stroke, and blood clots in the veins, referred to as venous thrombosis. Homocysteine rises in the body when the metabolism to cysteine of methionine to cysteine is impaired. This could be due to dietary deficiencies in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid.

Over 2,000 men and women in the U.S., aged from 20 to 59, were enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2005 to 2006 for the study. Participants had completed serum homocysteine data, along with a sexual behavior questionnaire. Researchers mainly focused on the participants' response to: “In the past 12 months, about how many times have you had vaginal or anal sex?”

Men who had lowers levels of homocysteine in the blood reported having sex at least twice a week, while those with high levels of homocysteine had sex less than once a month. Meanwhile, in women, there was no significant variation, but researchers weren’t able to conclude why.

They do hypothesize women may not see much of a benefit because their sexual arousal is less dependent on having a healthy blood flow. Meanwhile in men, in response to sexual stimulation, blood is pumped into the corpora cavernosa — tube-like structures in the penis — as muscle tissue relaxes, holding the blood in place and maintaining an erection. Homocysteine levels need to be low enough so blood can flow freely to the penis and start an erection for penetrative sex.

The findings of the new study suggest a relationship does exist between sex and heart disease risk, but it does not prove regular sex lowers homocysteine levels. In other words, sex frequency is linked to homocysteine levels, but they have to delve deeper as to why the homocysteine levels in some men decreased — whether it was due to sex frequency or other influencing risk factors. Moreover, it doesn't explain why this effect was not significantly seen in women.

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A similar 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found men who have sex at least twice a week were less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who have sex once a month. The researchers noted several factors, like physical health, or health of your relationship could influence how often you have sex. It seems people who are having sex more often also appear to be healthier than their counterparts.

The health benefits of sex become more important as we age and continue to live longer. An active sex life not only helps promote a greater sense of well-being, it also promotes healthy blood flow throughout the body, especially our heart. In the US, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, meaning monitoring our heart health is vital.

It seems having more sex will do more good than harm when it comes to our overall health.

See Also:

Heart Disease Affects More Young Women Than Men, So Why Are Women Less Informed?

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