Obesity is known to often increase your risk of developing a number of serious medical conditions - including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and hypertension - but studies have found that obesity is also linked to an increased chance of developing impotence or erectile dysfunction (the inability to get or maintain an erection suitable for sexual intercourse).

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There are many reasons why being very overweight or obese can place a greater risk of also developing erectile dysfunction. One example that shouldn't be underweighted by physical conditions is the effect obesity can have mentally. If you don't have confidence in yourself, this could affect your performance. Direct health causes related to obesity associated erectile dysfunction can broadly be broken down into three areas:

  1. Obesity and testosterone
  2. According to Harvard Health Publications, obesity has a profound effect on the level of male hormone testosterone. A 2007 study of 1,667 men found that each 1-point increase on the BMI scale resulted in a reduction in testosterone of 2%.

    Another study in 2008 discovered an even greater link when they examined the correlation between waist size and testosterone hormone levels. They found that having an increased waistline of 4 inches corresponded with a higher chance of having low testosterone levels by up to 75%.

  3. Obesity and the cardiovascular system
  4. Whilst there is a direct correlation with the hormone levels and ED, only a small portion of cases can be connected, and the links between obesity and erectile dysfunction go much broader. While the exact cause is not understood, it's thought that the negative impact of obesity on the vascular system can be at least partly responsible.

    In particular, obesity predisposes individuals to experience cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis, which is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits that leads to a hardening of the arteries and decrease in blood flow. This can limit the blood flow to the penis to the point where it's insufficient to get or maintain an erection.

  5. Obesity and other risk factors
  6. Lifestyle factors such as smoking or alcohol have been known to accelerate or prompt conditions such as ED, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Type 2 diabetes in particular can contribute to the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in men who are overweight.

    In addition, the lowered testosterone levels caused by obesity can create physiological barriers to a healthy sex life as briefly mentioned. It can reduce your libido, lower your energy levels and leave you feeling low and depressed. These can all impact on your desire and ability to form an erection.

The key facts

While the reasons for the link between obesity and impotence may be multifaceted, one thing is clear from many studies - that there is a strong link. It's been found that:

  • 50% of men between 40-70 years old in the UK experience erectile dysfunction, according to the Sexual Advice Association
  • A man with a 42' waist is twice as likely compared to a man with a 32' waist to suffer from ED, according to a Harvard Study
  • A man with a BMI of 28.7kg or above is 30% more likely to have erectile dysfunction, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
  • 79% of people with erectile dysfunction are also overweight, according to the same JAMA study
  • According to the Health Survey for England (HSE) published by Public Health England, 1 in every 4 adults in the UK are now classed as obese. By 2050, it is expected that obesity will affect 60% of UK adults.

Can losing weight treat erectile dysfunction?

The good news is that research has shown that losing weight can help treat erectile dysfunction. An Italian study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), of 110 men who were obese and suffered from impotence looked at the effect of a weight loss diet and exercise plan. The results were extremely promising. They found that after two years of sustained weight loss of more than 10% of their original weight, 30% of the participants no longer suffered from erectile dysfunction.

Treating erectile dysfunction

A healthy lifestyle is a key element of any treatment plan. Small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on shedding unwanted pounds, and keeping them off. Easy plans such as the NHS Weight Loss Plan, will help you:

  • Reduce your daily calories intake to 1,900kcal daily
  • Lower the level of saturated fats in your diet
  • Increase your fibre intake and choose heart healthy whole-grains
  • Aim to lose a safe 0.5kg to 1kg each week

In addition, it's important to combine a healthy diet with exercise. The NHS recommends a minimum of:

  • 2 ½ hours of cardiovascular exercise weekly, such as walking or cycling
  • 2-3 sessions of muscle strengthening activity per week

Combined this should equate to around 150 hours per week, which is completely doable. Finally, it's important to address other contributing lifestyle elements such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Reducing the level of stress and anxiety in your life

While lifestyle changes won't produce immediate results, in the long term it's been proven that they can help improve your condition.

You can also speak to your doctor, or fill out our online consultation form, to see if oral medications such as Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil), are suitable for you. These are highly effective FDA medications that can be used to treat erectile dysfunction in combination with healthy lifestyle changes.

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