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Wedded bliss can lower risk of stroke.
Wedded bliss can lower risk of stroke. / IMAGE SOURCE/GETTY IMAGES
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Men consume twice as much salt as they need. / ANDREA BRICCO, FOODPIX/GETTY IMAGES

A note from Dr. Oz: For men only

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is an embarrassing, frustrating and surprisingly common problem. By the time a man reaches his 60s, there's a 50% chance he'll develop it. The lifestyles of the 25% of men of all ages who report never having ED offer us clues to reversing the condition.

Erectile dysfunction can signal other serious problems. As I've told my viewers on The Dr. Oz Show: Your penis is the dipstick for your health.

Here are the top three medical conditions you need to think about if you or a loved one has ED:

Heart disease. The arteries in the penis and heart harden with plaques in response to cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. In the penis, these plaques prevent the arteries from dilating and engorging with blood for an erection. In the heart, these plaques are heart attacks waiting to happen. As plaques build up in both areas at once, ED may warn of impending heart troubles. To
get arteries back in shape, eat five fistfuls of fruits and vegetables a day, trim animal fats, and at least an hour a week, exercise until you sweat.

Low testosterone. If you have both ED and low libido, you may have low levels of this vital hormone. Aging lowers testosterone levels, but belly fat converts it to estrogen. Start losing weight while you await a testing appointment. If your libido returns, cancel the appointment.

Psychological disorders. Anxiety or depression can cause ED and low libido. To distinguish them from low testosterone or other problems, before you go to bed, wrap a strip of lick-and-stick stamps around your penis. If they break apart overnight, you're having erections while asleep, and the problem is probably psychological, not physical.

MEHMET OZ, M.D., is the host of The Dr. Oz Show.

Men's circuits are hard-wired to protect babies. / ROLF BRUDERER, BLEND IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
Stress can lead to weight gain. / LORI ADAMSKI PEEK, GETTY IMAGES

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While she contemplated writing The Male Brain, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine says in her introduction, nearly everyone made the same joke: "That will be a short book!" She says she realized that the notion that minds of men were the default to the more complicated female brain still pervades society, and she wanted to bust that myth.

A snapshot of the goings-on in the average male brain as it matures:

Fetal stage. Brain development starts eight weeks after conception.

Boyhood. High testosterone from 1 to 12 months; lower testosterone from 1 to 11 years. Major interest in winning, movement, chasing objects, exploratory play.

Puberty. A 20-fold increase in testosterone. Major interest in turf, social interaction, girls' bodies, male hierarchy.

Single male. Visual circuits change to spot fertile women. Focus on career, money.

Fatherhood. Circuits for sex drive suppress, auditory circuits enhance to hear baby cries. Focus on protecting mother/baby.

Midlife. Continued focus on sex, turf and attractive women. Testosterone slowly decreases.

Andropause. Ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases. Interest in staying healthy, marriage, sex life, legacy. Closest men come to being like women. - Mary Brophy Marcus

Salt: Hold the shaker

If you're worried about high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, here's something to consider: Cut back on salt.

Men consume more salt than do women - an average of 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, more than twice as much as they need.

Most adults in the United States should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day, according to the dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If you decrease your intake of sodium, you'll reduce your risk of high blood pressure, says cardiologist Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association and medical director at the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute in Dallas.

Sodium is hidden in almost everything, from restaurant entrees, fast-food burgers and lunch meat to processed foods. Many restaurant meals have 2,000 or more milligrams. Most people get their sodium from these sources, not from the salt shaker. And most people could slash their intake if they simply started eating better, consuming more fruits and vegetables and less processed food and fast food, says Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "The less processed your diet is, the less likely you are to be eating a lot of sodium." -Nanci Hellmich

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Marriage: Saving men's lives?

A happy marriage may help guard men against fatal strokes, according to a study that offers another hint about the connection between happiness and health.

Previous medical studies have suggested happiness can help people fight various illnesses, including cancer. Now a study by Uri Goldbourt, a researcher at Tel Aviv University's Neufeld Cardiac Research Institute, found that men in an unhappy marriage had a 64% higher risk of a fatal stroke than those who reported being happy in their marriage. Married men overall had a lower risk of fatal stroke than single men.

The study, presented in February at the American Stroke Association's conference, is based on data from 10,000 men surveyed about their happiness levels and marital status, beginning in 1963 and then 34 years later. It considered factors such as age, blood pressure and body mass index, but it measured only fatal strokes and not those in which men survived. - Sharon Jayson

Prostate cancer: Can a pill prevent it?

Could a medication reduce your risk of dying from prostate cancer? Doctors are studying the potential of two drugs to prevent prostate cancer. Experts, however, disagree about whether to prescribe them to healthy men.

Both drugs - finasteride, also known as Proscar, and dutasteride, sold as Avodart - are approved to reduce benign prostate swelling. In a new study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, about 20% of men taking Avodart were diagnosed with prostate cancer, compared with 25% of those on a placebo. That's about the same level of protection offered by Proscar. The study was funded by Avodart's manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline.

These pills appear to shrink the prostate, making it easier to find the tumors that matter most - aggressive ones likely to prove life-threatening. They also shrink the tumors, especially non-aggressive ones, making them too small to be detected. That could spare men from unnecessary treatments, such as surgery or radiation, which can cause impotence, incontinence and other side effects.

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Gerald Andriole of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who co-wrote the Avodart study, says men with elevated PSA levels or prostate cancer in their family may opt for the drug. But other doctors, including Patrick Walsh of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, say thereีs still no evidence that the drugs save lives. The pills cost up to $4 a day and increase the risk of sexual dysfunction, he says. The new study also found a slightly higher risk of heart problems in men taking Avodart - something doctors have not found before. - Liz Szabo

Stress:Work through it

Are financial worries and job stress causing weight gain?

Researchers at Harvard analyzed national data on 1,355 men and women who had their weight and stress levels measured in 1995, with follow-up weight checks in 2004.

Among the findings reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology: Overweight men were particularly likely to gain weight over time if they were really stressed. Normal-weight men were not likely to gain weight when worried.

"Some people gain weight when they are stressed, and some lose, and the people who are at the most risk of gaining appear to be those who had weight problems to begin with," says study lead author Jason Block, a physician and an obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School. One possible reason: Some people eat more because eating calms them.

Block says people must determine what works for them when it comes to stress relief. It could be exercising, or talking to a friend or co-worker. "Figuring this out could help break the cycle of gaining weight under stress." - Nanci Hellmich

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