Erectile dysfunction. Impotence. ED. Whatever you want to call it, the inability to get or keep an erection is a downright frustrating experience for any man.
It can be anxiety-inducing, it can affect your confidence both inside and outside the bedroom, and, if you have a partner, it may put a lot of pressure on your relationship.
A bunch of factors contribute to erectile dysfunction, and weight is definitely one of them. But how big a role does it actually play?
Here’s what you need to know about how the two relate, and if you’re overweight and experiencing erectile dysfunction, what you can do to try and alleviate both situations.
Common causes of erectile dysfunction
Put simply, erectile dysfunction occurs when you’re unable to achieve or sustain an erection that’s hard enough to have sexual intercourse. It can also be accompanied by a lower libido.
You may experience one or both of these symptoms from time to time, but it’s when they become chronic that they turn into an issue.
The condition is incredibly common, with roughly 40 per cent of men experiencing ED.
In fact, numerous experts agree that it’s the most prevalent type of sexual dysfunction among men. It can affect men of all ages but the risk of getting it increases as you get older.
So, what causes erectile dysfunction? There’s no single reason why erectile dysfunction happens; it can be due to physical or emotional factors, or a mix of the two.
Often, when there’s a physical explanation for ED, it can lead to stress or anxiety over sexual performance, which only makes the condition worse.
Here are some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction.
Sometimes, erectile dysfunction can be due to a health condition, such as heart disease, atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease), high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or metabolic syndrome, among many others.
It can come about as a result of a pelvic or spinal cord injury, too.
ED can also indicate an underlying health problem that needs addressing, so completing Pilot's online text-based assessment means one of our Australian doctors will be able to uncover what might be the cause and formulate a personalised treatment plan just for you.
Medications and treatments
Along with health issues themselves, some of the medications or treatments designed to manage them can cause erectile dysfunction.
These include antidepressants; antihistamines; heart, high blood pressure or high cholesterol medications; opioid painkillers; and surgery or radiation therapy around the prostate area.
Heavy drinking, smoking and drug use — especially if they're long-term — are risk factors that can lead to erectile dysfunction. Engaging in these can also increase your risk of other health conditions that cause ED.
Being overweight or obese are other big risk factors that can trigger erectile dysfunction, which we’ll explore in-depth shortly.
Most erectile dysfunction causes are physical, but there are plenty of psychological ones, too. Stress, exhaustion, performance anxiety, relationship problems, depression and generalised anxiety are just some of the reasons why ED can occur.
What role does weight play in erectile dysfunction?
Weight plays a huge role in erectile dysfunction. More specifically, being overweight or obese can trigger erectile dysfunction directly or lead to other health issues that are often risk factors for ED.
For example, being obese carries an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes — two of the conditions that may cause erectile dysfunction.
Numerous medical studies have confirmed this, including a 2004 study from Italy.
The researchers found that men with a high body mass index (more than 28.7) were at a 30 per cent greater risk of erectile dysfunction than those with a normal body mass index (less than 25).
They also estimated that the prevalence of erectile dysfunction among overweight or obese men could be as high as 79 per cent.
Does weight loss help erectile dysfunction?
On the flip side, the researchers involved in the Italian study also worked out that maintaining physical activity and leanness could help preserve healthy erectile function.
This is backed up by another Italian study from 2005 that explored the link between weight loss and regaining normal sexual function.
About one-third of the obese men involved in the study were able to cure their erectile dysfunction by losing weight, improving their diet and exercising more.
By contrast, only five per cent of the control group managed to overcome ED.
Exercise can also boost blood circulation, which may result in an improvement in erectile function.
It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise, either: a Harvard study found that a 30-minute walk every day could decrease the risk of ED by 41 per cent.
A healthy diet can make a big difference to sexual function, too.
Another study — the Massachusetts Male Ageing Study — found that men could reduce the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by sticking to a diet filled with fruit and veg, whole grains and fish, and by eating less refined grains, and red and processed meat.
The other benefit of making positive changes to your diet and exercise regimen, and losing weight?
These factors can have a huge impact on your overall health, thus reducing your risk of contracting diseases that can cause ED, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
They can also have a positive effect on your mental health, make you feel more confident and lead to increased self-esteem, which may just keep performance anxiety, and the erectile dysfunction associated with it, at bay.
Doctor-recommended ways to treat erectile dysfunction
Aside from making lifestyle changes and losing weight, doctors may choose to treat ED in one or multiple ways.
There are several types of oral medication that can help you regain normal erectile function. In a nutshell, these work to relax and increase blood flow to your penis, making it much easier to get an erection.
Pilot offers personalised treatment for ED and delivers it discreetly to your home, so you don't have to worry about any potentially awkward face-t0-face conversations with a GP.
After completing an online assessment with Pilot, one of our doctors will evaluate your answers and design a treatment plan that may include prescription medications that have successfully treated over 80 per cent of cases over the last 20 years as well as methods to improve lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise.Start an online consult
You might have heard of a penis pump, which fits around your penis and is pumped by hand or using battery power. The purpose is to create a vacuum to encourage blood flow to your penis and in turn, alleviate ED.
Surgical options are a lot more expensive and generally aren’t recommended unless other treatments aren’t working.
A couple of examples of surgery to treat erectile dysfunction include penile implants and vascular surgery. Penile implants are rods that are inserted into either side of your penis.
There are two types of rods: The first are malleable and enable you to bend your penis upward to have sex, and the second is inflatable and attached to a device that you squeeze in order to stimulate an erection.
If there's poor blood flow to your penis, vascular surgery works to improve the situation and help you return to normal erectile function.
It's worth noting that this type of surgery isn’t a common ED treatment, but it may be performed on men who have had an injury to their penile area.
If there are psychological reasons behind your ED — such as depression, anxiety or worry around sexual performance — counselling may be a good option to address them and help cure the ED experience.
Ways to lose weight to improve your health
We now know that weight loss can offer huge benefits to your physical and mental health, and it can also help address erectile dysfunction.
So, if you’re keen to shed a few kilos, here are a few ways to do so.
Assess your diet
Diet is one of the biggest factors if you want to lose weight. It encompasses what you eat and drink, as well as how much and when.
Try to keep portion sizes in check and ensure you’re drinking enough water — not only is it healthier than soft drinks and juice, but it can help curb food cravings.
Try logging your food and drink intake in a food diary to assess your eating habits. You may notice things like consistently choosing foods high in fat and salt, or habits you weren’t fully aware of, such as constant snacking throughout the afternoon.
Up your exercise
Regular exercise is another major part of weight loss. There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to how much exercise you do and how you decide to keep fit.
Generally, though, you want to aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day. This could be a walk, bike ride, fitness class, gym session or whatever else gets your heart pumping.
You can also make easy lifestyle changes to help support your weight loss journey.
Ideas include going for a walk on your lunch break or walking to work one day per week, taking the stairs over the lift, and standing while working from time to time.
Seek psychological help
Sometimes, being overweight or obese may be linked to suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental health condition. If this is the case, you might want to seek professional support from a psychologist.
They can help you address things like your habits and beliefs around food, eating and weight loss, and help you develop new, healthier behaviours that will support your efforts to lose weight.
Make sustainable changes
The key to healthy weight loss is to avoid crash diets and fads that make you lose tremendous amounts of weight in a short period of time.
Instead, implement sustainable changes that you can keep in your routine well after you lose weight. That way, all the hard work you’ve put in won’t be for nothing and you’ll be able to maintain your weight loss long-term.
Weight loss programs
For many people, leaning on a dedicated weight loss program can make losing weight a heck of a lot easier.
Many programs deliver a multi-pronged approach to weight loss.
The Pilot program, for example, includes an initial assessment by a doctor to figure out the best plan of attack to help you lose weight, a personalised weight loss strategy that’s supplemented by medication, and support from a health coach and weight loss group to keep you on track.
This is a comprehensive program that addresses weight on a cellular weight. To find out if you're eligible, complete our online text-based assessment here, which will be assessed by a Pilot doctor.