Obesity and Erectile Dysfunction

A closer look at this condition and its relationship to weight.
Obesity and Erectile Dysfunction

We all know that being overweight or obese is not good for your health, but can it also be one of the causes of erectile dysfunction? What are the effects of excess weight on your sex life, and can adopting a healthy lifestyle be part of an effective treatment for ED?

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine, more than 18 million men in the United States over the age of 20 suffer from ED. In fact, some experts place the true figure much higher.

"Fifty-three percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 have some degree of erectile dysfunction," says
Ira Sharlip, MD, spokesperson for the American Urological Association.

"Getting off the couch and exercising is not only going to reduce your risk of diabetes and cardio-vesicular disease, but it can also prevent ED."

Risk factors for erectile dysfunction include age, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and high blood pressure. What is still unknown, though, is whether obesity and being overweight are also cause of ED or simply tied to risk factors associated with it.

"The data on the relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction is not clear," says Sharlip. "There are some papers which show that obesity alone is a risk factor, and others which show that it's not."

What is certainly clear, Sharlip goes on to say, is that obesity is an important contributing factor to ED. For example, men who are obese or overweight may have elevated cholesterol levels and a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. In addition, diabetes is a very important and serious consequence of being obese and overweight, and is highly associated with ED.

"Over 50 percent of men with diabetes suffer from erectile dysfunction," says Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, MPH, assistant professor and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author of the American Journal of Medicine study. "If you're obese, the risk of developing diabetes is two to three times more likely than for someone who is not obese."

Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and especially getting physical activity can help a man not only avoid ED in the future, but can also be part of an effective treatment for it.

"Certainly in our research, sedentary behavior was strongly associated with ED," continues Selvin. Her study found that men who were physically inactive or were very sedentary — defined as watching three or more hours of TV per day — were much more likely to have ED than were men who were physically active. "Getting off the couch and exercising is not only going to reduce your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but it can also prevent ED."

The effects of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction were the subject of a landmark two-year Italian study conducted by the Second University of Naples and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004. This study took a group of 110 men between 35 and 55, who all had some degree of ED. All the men who took part were obese but otherwise healthy, and were divided into two equal groups. The first group was given detailed and individualized advice, reducing their total body weight by 10 percent or more through healthy food choices and by increasing physical activity. The second group was just given general information about healthy diet and exercise. By the end of the study, the BMI of men in the first group decreased more than the BMI of those in the second. In addition, in the first group there was a 22 percent improvement in erectile dysfunction and 31 percent of the same men reported being at a level that no longer categorized them as having erectile dysfunction. In contrast, only 6 percent of the men in the second group were no longer considered to have erectile dysfunction.

If you are already suffering from ED, a healthy lifestyle is a big part of any treatment plan that you should discuss with your doctor, but it's not going to produce immediate results. There are a number of well-known drug treatments, as well as other alternative treatments available for ED (visit WebMD for more details on the various medical treatments: http://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/default.htm). Before doing anything, including making lifestyle changes, anyone with erectile dysfunction should approach his doctor. For some men, this can be the ultimate hurdle.

"The best way is just to be honest and say, ':ook, I'm having a problem — can you help me with it, or refer me to someone who can?'" says Shipley. For a man who prefers a more indirect approach, Shipley suggests that a patient ask his doctor if he or she has experience in treating sexual problems or asking how many men have sexual problems as a way of bringing erectile dysfunction into the conversation.

Even though there's no surefire evidence that being overweight or obese causes ED, we do know one thing for sure: It doesn't help. Getting active and eating healthy will not only help your weight loss, it will also have positive effects on your sex life as well.

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