Coffee may offer more of a "lift" than thought; men suffering from erectile dysfunction linked to obesity or hypertension may get some help with their problem from a few cups of coffee day, a study indicates.

Men who consume two or three cups of coffee, and its caffeine, each day are less prone to erectile dysfunction (ED) than counterparts who consume little or no caffeine, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found.

The study found an association between caffeine intake and lowered incidence but could not prove a direct cause and effect, the researchers acknowledge.

Still, they point out, caffeine is known to be beneficial to heart health in some ways, including blood vessel circulation, and erectile function -- as well as dysfunction -- is linked to blood flow and therefore cardiovascular health.

Caffeine's effect on ED is likely due to its ability to relax and open arteries, improving blood flow to the penis, the researchers suggest.

In the study involving 3,724 men who were surveyed on their health and lifestyle -- diets, exercise, consumption of caffeine and alcohol -- those who drank 85 to 170 milligrams of caffeine daily were 42 percent less likely to have issues with ED, the researchers found.

The effect of caffeine in reducing erectile dysfunction was readily apparent in men who were overweight, obese or who had high blood pressure; however, men with diabetes experienced no similar improvement, they report.

"Diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for ED, so this was not surprising," says Dr. David Lopez, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the university's health center.

"Even though we saw a reduction in the prevalence of erectile dysfunction with men who were obese, overweight and hypertensive, that was not true of men with diabetes," he says.

Erectile dysfunction affects around 44 percent of men over the age of 40, and by age 70 that rate reaches 70 percent. In total, ED affects around 30 million men in America, figures from the National Institutes of Health show.

Coffee is not the only possible source of caffeine in diet, the researchers note, as it is also found in tea, soda and some sports drinks.

The study findings are in line with previous research about the health benefits of reasonable levels of caffeine consumption, one expert says.

"These findings also support the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee position that drinking three to five cups a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease; two conditions that are well established as significant risk factors for erectile dysfunction," says Dr. Natan Bar-Chama, director of Male Reproductive Medicine at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

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