The Link Between Obesity and Erectile Dysfunction

Studies show obese men are at an increased risk for erectile dysfunction

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Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is the inability to achieve and maintain an erection long enough to engage in satisfactory sexual intercourse. Roughly 12 million men in the United States between the ages of 40 to 79 have ED.

Obesity is a known risk factor for ED, particularly through its connection to diabetes and heart problems, which can affect sexual function. ED and reduced testosterone levels are also complications of obesity.

This article will explore the link between obesity and erectile dysfunction, as well as lifestyles changes that can help improve both.

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How Obesity May Cause Erectile Dysfunction

Worldwide, obesity is recognized as a significant public health issue. It's also frequently associated with ED.

In the United States, it's estimated that both diabetes and obesity are responsible for 8 million cases of ED. A 2014 study indicated that 79% of men with ED are also obese.

ED is now considered to be a factor of metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that together indicate an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes) in men. Obesity is also considered to be a factor of metabolic syndrome.

The Effect of Obesity on ED

Obesity can influence the development of ED, but why this happens exactly is still not fully understood.

Obesity means there is a high level of inflammation in the body. This pro-inflammatory state can cause dysfunction in both the endocrine system and the endothelial layer (the inner lining of the blood vessels), which can cause ED.

When the endothelial layer is not functioning properly, the vessels have trouble switching from dilation, which opens up the vessels and gives more space for blood flow, and constriction, which makes blood vessels smaller so blood flow is restricted.

Some researchers think higher levels of fat in the body, which occurs with obesity, may also cause endothelial dysfunction. Researchers think a possible link between obesity and ED is that damage to blood vessels caused by excess fat may contribute to the development of ED.

Obesity as a Risk Factor

A 14-year study determined that obesity is an independent risk factor for ED, meaning that obesity alone can cause ED.

Weight Loss as a Treatment for ED

Weight loss is not easy and requires a high level of commitment. But studies show that it's worthwhile to improve sexual function.

In one study, a group of men with ED who began consistently exercising and reduced their calorie intake saw a 31% improvement in normal erectile function.

Obesity causes inflammation within the body, and weight loss is shown to reduce the body's inflammatory markers. Some researchers think reducing overall inflammation through weight loss also reduces endothelial dysfunction, a known cause of ED.

Eating Habits

For a weight loss program to really work over time, it needs to be a lifestyle change that includes changes to eating habits.

Incorporating the Mediterranean-style diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, along with reducing overall calorie intake has been shown in some studies to improve ED.

There are many dietary programs and fad diets out there, but it's important to find a way of eating healthy that really fits your lifestyle so you can maintain it. Beginning with a few simple changes, like eating more vegetables or drinking more water, and continuing to build from there with small but manageable changes can help set you up for success.

Physical Exercise

Being physically inactive has a negative impact on erectile function. However, increasing physical activity through exercise has been shown to improve sexual response.

Both healthy eating and increased physical activity improve erectile functioning. Researchers think that the combination causes a reduction in inflammatory markers and insulin resistance.

Physical exercise also improves vascular and endothelial function, which can directly impact ED.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

It can be uncomfortable to talk about ED, but healthcare providers are receptive and ready to help. ED is increasingly a marker for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and coronary artery disease, so it's important to let your healthcare provider know if you're having any issues with sexual function. You should also check with your healthcare provider before starting a new diet or exercise program.

A Word From Verywell

If you or your partner are struggling with ED, help is available. While it may be uncomfortable to talk about ED with a healthcare provider, it's important for maintaining a strong quality of life and intimate relationships with your partner. You should also discuss the impact your weight may be having on your sexual function and how you can help improve your overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can belly fat cause erectile dysfunction?

    Yes, belly fat, also referred to as visceral fat, is connected to erectile dysfunction. In one study, researchers indicated that visceral fat accumulation has a detrimental effect on erectile functioning.

  • Can losing weight help with erectile dysfunction?

    Studies show that weight loss does help restore erectile functioning. In one study, erectile function was significantly improved after study participants followed a strict diet and physical activity program, and inflammatory markers went down as well. Researchers note that even weight loss achieved through bariatric surgery improves erectile function.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks, LMFT
Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks is a licensed marriage and family therapist, health reporter and medical writer with over twenty years of experience in journalism. She has a degree in journalism from The University of Florida and a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University.