Sexual Health Q&A

Erectile Dysfunction
Can consuming soft drinks lead to erectile dysfunction (ED)?

It’s possible. Soft drinks, which include sweetened carbonated beverages like soda, are usually high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories. Consuming too much of these ingredients can contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome, which can then lead to erectile dysfunction (ED).

Metabolic syndrome is actually a group of conditions that include obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Many people with metabolic syndrome eventually develop diabetes.

In 2015, research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men with metabolic syndrome are 2.6 times more likely to have ED compared to healthy men. And in 2010, a study in the British Medical Journal reported that obese men were two and a half times more likely to have ED than men who were not obese.

In addition, men with diabetes are about four times more likely to develop ED compared to non-diabetic men. They are more likely to start having erection problems at earlier ages, too.

There are many ways the components of metabolic syndrome can lead to ED. Here are some examples:

Neuropathy. High blood sugar can damage the messaging system between the brain and the penis. This system is critical for erections, as sexual stimulation triggers processes in the brain that “tell” the penis to get ready for sex. When this pathway is disrupted, the message can’t get through.

Impaired Blood Flow. When a man has an erection, his penis fills with blood, which keeps the penis rigid until he ejaculates. Some conditions, like high blood pressure, damage the lining of arteries, including arteries in the penis. As a result, substances called plaques can build up on the artery walls, restricting blood flow. With less blood flowing into the penis, an erection will be weak at best.

Low Testosterone. Testosterone is an important hormone for men and helps the erection process. However, obesity can lower testosterone levels. Typically, some of a man’s testosterone converts to estrogen, another hormone, which is important for healthy bones. This process usually happens in fat cells. Because obese men have more fatty tissue, more of their testosterone changes to estrogen, thus lowering testosterone levels and impairing erections.

Fortunately, men can make dietary changes to improve their erections and their overall health. Drinking water instead of soda is always a better bet. Men should also have frequent checkups with their doctor to make sure any symptoms of metabolic syndrome are well-managed. They might also consider seeing a nutritionist, who can teach them about healthy food choices.

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