Some Weight Loss Improves Erections in Obese Men With Diabetes
Aug. 5, 2011 — A little bit of weight loss may revive the sex lives and improve the urinary health of men who are obese and have diabetes, a new study shows.
Obesity and diabetes can take a toll on the penis and urinary system, which are sensitive to changes in blood flow, inflammation, and hormone levels.
“Everything that makes your blood vessels bad is also bad for erectile function,” says Ronald Tamler, MD, PhD, clinical director of the diabetes center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “The small arteries around the penis go down the drain first.”
Symptoms often include difficulty getting or keeping an erection, low libido, infertility, and problems with urination, including the need for frequent, sleep-stealing trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Previous studies have shown that dropping a large amount of weight, about 30% of total body weight, a feat typically achieved through weight loss surgery, can improve many of those problems.
The new study is one of the first to show that smaller losses — 5% to 10% of total body weight or about 11 to 22 pounds for a 220-pound, 6-foot-tall man — may bring about the same degree of improvement.
“Within a very short space of time, with a very modest amount of weight loss, there was quite a marked improvement in erectile function,” says study researcher Gary A. Wittert, MD, a professor who is also head of the department of medicine at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
“Some of the men, who were quite significantly impaired, improved quite markedly and continued to do so up to a year later,” Wittert tells WebMD.
Experts said although the study was small, with just 31 participants, it was noteworthy because it followed the men for a long time and carefully measured changes in symptoms and biomarkers like hormones.
“This is the type of study that we need,” says Drogo Montague, MD, director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not involved in the research.
“It’s definitely an underappreciated problem,” Montague says. “We have an epidemic of obesity in our society and we’re seeing this more and more and more. I’ve seen patients who have had dramatic reversal of loss of libido and poor erections through weight loss.”
“This is kind of a way of showing that even smaller amounts of weight loss can be effective, and it’s done it in a more scientific way,” he says.
Weight Loss to Improve Sexual Health
For the study, researchers recruited obese men who had body mass indexes (BMIs), a number calculated from weight and height, of greater than 30 and waist sizes over 40 inches. A large waist is an indication of having a lot of fat stored around the belly.