What bothers men the most? A big waist or erectile dysfunction?

There seems to be no end to the number of ailments aggravated or caused by diet. And it seems to be tough for people to give up eating the stuff they just love in the interest of  avoiding body fat or an ailment. But some ailments, particularly for men, are harder to ignore.  

In my experience, women are very much more concerned about their body fat than men. Dissatisfaction with weight is a perpetual subject of discussion among women; usually a “Do you think I look fat?” thing. Women join together in weight loss support groups. But for men, erectile dysfunction is another matter.

Erectile dysfunction is a macho thing for men, a condition that works on their minds. I doubt that men sit around the table at the coffee shop and discuss their sexual limitations. I would not have even brought up erectile dysfunction (no, this is not a Viagra commercial) were it not that this too, just like extra weight, can be All About the Food.

As you might already know, achieving and maintaining an erection has to do with blood flow and nerves. The blood capillaries in peripheral parts of the body (like feet, hands, eyes, kidneys, and penis) are surrounded by a network of nerves. Those tiny capillaries and neighboring (sometimes intertwined) nerves are easily damaged by high blood sugar and high levels of insulin in the blood stream. That damage can interfere with blood flow and nerve signaling, creating unfortunate “dysfunction.”

So where did that blood sugar and insulin come from? Amazingly simple. You ate the sugar in large quantities.

Plants are the sources of sugar in the form of carbohydrates. Vegetables have small amounts. But starches like grains (wheat, rye, corn, rice, etc.) and root vegetables (like potatoes) contain large amounts of sugar. The obvious sugar is in the sugar bowl and in our favorite desserts and snacks. This is concentrated sugar that started out life as a plant.

If your grocery cart contains stuff in boxes, sacks, jars, etc. (think pasta) you are stocking your pantry with a lot of sugar.

Glucose (sugar from carbohydrates in your diet) is a source of energy for your body. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas to (among other things) move that glucose into your body cells. A recent post describes in more detail what happens with high blood sugar and high insulin. Click here to read about that. But in a nutshell, a perpetual excess of glucose and insulin creates insulin resistance, blocking the insulin from doing its job. Consequently blood sugar goes ever higher, damaging all the body organs along with the vascular system (blood stream) and nerves.

In the end diabetes will be diagnosed but damage is done long before the diagnosis. And in the cases of erectile dysfunction, that is damage to tiny capillaries and nerves.

If I haven’t learned anything else from writing my book I do know this. If your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you as diabetic or nobody in your family has suffered or died from diabetic complications, you aren’t even remotely interested in diabetes. And maybe not even then. Your doctor (assuming you have one) didn’t tell you your blood sugar was something to be interested in. Your cardiologist has never mentioned insulin and you have no idea that the the more insulin rolling around in your blood stream, the greater your risk of cardiovascular disease. Click here to read more about that. So there is certainly no way you could expect to know that erectile dysfunction would be related to those.

According to the diabetes journals up to 52% of American men over the age of 40 have erectile dysfunction. The National Institute of Health says prevalence in men with diabetes can be as high as 75%.  Now think about this for just a minute. About 75% of Americans are either pre-diabetic or diabetic, a very large group of people with abnormal levels of blood sugar and insulin. The men among that group may be headed toward an uncomfortable place.

High blood sugar and insulin inevitably mean you have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance along with high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, fatty liver, and high blood pressure combine into a condition called metabolic syndrome. To the largest degree these are ALL diet related.

Whether you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome by a doctor or not, it usually isn’t hard to tell when that combination exists. The belt is cinched under the waist, not around it.

And while men may not care about their large waists, that waist along with other indicators of the metabolic syndrome are markers for cardiovascular disease AND erectile dysfunction.

I know this is aggravating. No matter what ailment you have, blood sugar and insulin seem to be somehow entangled. Once you lose control of those two, the litany of illnesses grows long. The way to avoid or manage erectile dysfunction (and metabolic syndrome) is to get a handle on your diet and avoid high blood sugar. It’s All About the Food will tell you how to do that.

This article, Diabetes and Sexual Dysfunction, covers in greater depth the issues for both men and women. If this is a concern of yours or anyone in your life, please take the time to read it.