Weight and erectile dysfunction
Reviewed by our clinical team
Erectile dysfunction can be very frustrating and can lead to long-term stress and anxiety. There is a range of causes and triggers behind erectile dysfunction, in many cases medication can help, but lifestyle changes can also make a huge difference.
Weight and erectile dysfunction do appear to be linked, so it’s important to know that if you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction, your lifestyle could be playing a part.
What causes ED?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a complex subject and can be triggered by a number of things. These include:
- Narrowing blood vessels due to heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Hormonal imbalance
- Spinal injury
- Certain medication
- Psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Relationship or gender issues
- Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
The chances of erectile dysfunction can increase with age. According to a study by King’s College London, erectile dysfunction affects up to one in five men - or 4.3 million men - in the UK. By 2025, it’s thought that 322 million men worldwide will have experienced ED.
Weight gain and erectile dysfunction
ED is usually "multifactorial", meaning that several issues together are causing the problem, rather than just one single one. Being overweight/obese is thought to be an independent risk factor; meaning it adds to known risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes.
Apart from being an independent risk factor, overweight/obesity can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
Being overweight changes your hormones, leading to lower testosterone levels.
It can also lead to low level inflammation which can affect the lining of blood vessels which are important for sexual function.
In a nut shell: the more risk factor you have the higher your chances of ED.
On the positive side though- because obesity/ overweight is linked in many ways to ED, trying to tackle your weight can go a long way in terms of your overall health and erection health!
Obesity and ED are risk factors for other health issues
The main risk factor for ED seems to be cardiovascular disease. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so there is a strong link between obesity and erectile dysfunction.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term for conditions that affect the heart muscle and blood vessels, which often develop in those who are overweight or sedentary. Problems usually occur due to a build-up of (fatty) deposits inside the arteries, called atherosclerosis, leading to a narrowing of the vessels, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of blood clots.
Beyond erectile dysfunction, strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, and aortic diseases are all potential complications of unchecked cardiovascular issues, so it’s important to get checked for this. A height and weight, blood pressure and pulse check as well as a cholesterol and blood sugar test are a good place to start.
An at-home blood test can check your risk of diabetes and cholesterol levels. You can also speak to your doctor if you’re worried about any symptoms you’re experiencing.
Diabetes is a condition that causes blood sugar levels to become too high due to low levels of insulin, the hormone that controls glucose levels in the blood. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1, where the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, and Type 2, where your body doesn’t produce enough insulin due to genetic factors.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage over time, known as neuropathy, which can affect the nerve pathways important for sexual function. Over time, high blood sugar levels can also damage small blood vessels, again affecting sexual function.
Low testosterone can also be a factor in obesity and erectile dysfunction. Testosterone enables normal sexual development and is also linked to sex drive and sperm production. Testosterone levels start to decline from the age of 30 by about 2% a year, so lower testosterone levels are expected as you get older. Not everyone notices a change but for some men low testosterone levels can lead to hypogonadism; this can cause loss of body hair, obesity, breast development, low libido and erectile dysfunction.
Weight loss and erectile dysfunction
By losing weight, you will reduce the likelihood of conditions such as diabetes, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and therefore the chances of developing erectile dysfunction. While losing weight can improve ED, it is far better to make an effort to improve your lifestyle before these problems occur.
How does diet affect ED?
Although there are no foods that directly cause erectile dysfunction, a poor diet can contribute to poor heart health, high cholesterol, and diabetes over time, increasing your risk of erectile dysfunction.
To lose weight, you should look to decrease your intake of fatty foods, full-fat dairy, sugar, alcohol, and processed or takeaway food. These are OK for a treat, but over-indulging can cause serious trouble for your health.
Instead, try to eat more fruit and vegetables, and whole grains such as oats, brown and wild rice, barley, and quinoa. Overall, you should aim to eat a balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals you need.
This won’t immediately cure your erectile dysfunction, but over time you should start to notice a change as your general and heart health improves.
If you don’t see a change, it might be that other lifestyle factors - such as smoking and excessive use of drugs and alcohol - are contributing. If none of these are relevant, you should speak to your doctor to identify other possible causes.
How to lose weight to help erectile dysfunction
If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, and your doctor believes it is linked to your weight, then they will likely recommend a lifestyle change including weight loss to improve your symptoms.
Exercise is a great way to lose weight, and also improve your health in general. The NHS recommends that adults between 19 and 64 exercise for at least 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity, or 75 minutes at vigorous intensity. If you’re older, you can do slower exercise over a longer timeframe.
Moderate exercises include:
- Water aerobics
By regularly taking part in some form of exercise or physical activity, you can improve your heart health and vastly reduce the risk of heart disease and the symptoms that come with it - including erectile dysfunction.
Unfortunately, you can’t outrun a bad diet. To aid weight loss, you should also aim to reduce your intake of fatty, processed foods, replacing them with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and oily fish. There’s no need to get rid of all your treats, just try to balance them out with healthy, natural food.
Reducing portion sizes and counting calories will also help reduce your food intake and support weight loss.
Medicated weight loss
If you’ve previously tried to lose weight and struggled to do so, you might consider medicated weight loss. Although weight loss medications aren’t ‘magic pills’, when taken in conjunction with increased exercise and a balanced diet, they can increase your chances of losing weight and keeping it off.
Neither of these medications is available over the counter, but you can get approval to use them from a pharmacist or a GP.
Saxenda® and Orlistat are the only approved weight loss medications currently available in the UK. You should not accept or use any medications given or sold to you by anyone other than a medical professional.
Erectile dysfunction can be stressful and disheartening, and as we’ve seen, lifestyle and weight play a significant role in your risk of developing sexual dysfunction.
If you are struggling with erectile dysfunction and believe your lifestyle might be the reason, the best thing to do is speak with a GP for advice and next steps.