Diabetes:  A ‘Perfect Storm’ for ED

Diabetes and erectile dysfunction are like “terrible twins” because the metabolic changes that cause diabetes also cause erectile dysfunction. That’s why Wed MD has described diabetes as “the perfect storm” for erectile dysfunction – a host of physiological changes which taken alone may not be too serious all come together to create sexual mayhem.

Various studies show that between 35 and 75 per cent of men with diabetes will experience some level of erectile dysfunction. Men with Type 2 diabetes tend to develop erectile dysfunction 10 to 15 years before men who do not have diabetes.

Key Diabetes-ED Causes

  • Loss of nitric oxide: Nitric oxide is a chemical released into the bloodstream by the lining of blood vessels which plays an important part in getting erections because it influences releasing blood flow to the penis. Diabetes reduces the production of nitric oxide (NO)
  • High blood sugar levels typical in diabetes cause blood vessel and nerve damage that affects erections and sexual response.
  • High blood pressure increases the risk of vessel damage, further decreasing erectile response. (ED is also a common side effect of high blood pressure medications)
  • High cholesterol is also common in people with diabetes. LDL cholesterol, or what's called "bad" cholesterol, can interfere with the ability of blood vessels to dilate. High cholesterol levels result in fatty deposits in artery walls. This build-up of fatty deposit can reduce blood flow.
  • Low levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone, are common in diabetics
  • Low emotional health; Tiredness, stress, pain, numbness, depression….Feeling bad about your health has an impact on sex drive and performance.

How Diabetes Causes Erectile Dysfunction

Diabetes and erectile dysfunction set up a cause and effect cycle in the body from the impact high blood sugar levels have on the cardio-vascular system.

Step 1: Insulin resistance and high blood sugar

Diabetics have high blood sugar levels because their blood cells cannot absorb glucose. Through mechanisms not fully understood – and some hereditary influence may be included - the cells become “densitized” to responding to insulin. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells won’t open up to store glucose when insulin comes knocking. So the body is flooded with high blood sugar which has not been stored in the cells.

Step 2: High Blood Sugar Leads to High Blood Pressure

High blood sugar causes build up in the vessel walls, causing damage and interrupted blood flow. Adequate blood flow to the penis is essential for good erections.

Step 3: Nitric Oxide is Reduced

Nitric oxide is important for sending sexual messages and responses via nerves and blood vessels that connect brain and penis. Blood vessels damaged by high blood sugar are unable to produce the nitric oxide needed to create erections.

Step 4: High Cholesterol in the Blood

Blood flow to the penis is further impeded by the build up of fatty deposits on the artery walls from high cholesterol. These fatty deposits also contribute to high blood pressure, and also further reduce the ability of penile vessels to dilate enough to allow extra blood flow required for erections.

Step 5 End Result

Erectile dysfunction as a result of diabetes-related causes, including impaired blood flow and nerve damage.