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Erectile dysfunction linked to diabetes

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Recent research indicates that 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have a form of neuropathy, a leading cause of erectile dysfunction (ED). Diabetes is a condition of elevated blood sugar that is caused by poor production or lack of insulin.  Diabetes is also commonly tied to obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol – all contributors to ED.

Neuropathy or the side effects of the medications used to treat cardiovascular disease are risk factors for ED.  Other symptoms such as pain, tingling, or numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs are among the most common symptoms of neuropathy.

Neuropathy can also cause digestive system symptoms that include indigestion, nausea and vomiting.  It is very common to experience diarrhea or constipation as well.  These factors greatly impact one’s ability to absorb nutrients and contributes to weight changes, weakness and other complications such as depression.

Am I at risk?

Diabetic sufferers can develop nerve damage at any time, but the risk increases with one’s age and how long they’ve had diabetes. The highest rates of neuropathy are among people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years. However, many people with neuropathy have no symptoms.  This allows the condition to go untreated for years.

Diabetic neuropathies are more common in people who have problems controlling their blood sugar as well as those with high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and those who are overweight.

What is autonomic neuropathy?

The two most common forms of diabetic neuropathy are classified as peripheral or autonomic. Each affects different parts of the body in various ways.  Peripheral causes the pain and altered sensations in your hands and feet.  Autonomic affects the digestion, bowel, bladder, and sexual response.  This type also controls your heart, lungs and eyes.

The heart and blood vessels are part of the cardiovascular system, which controls blood circulation. Damage to the nerves in the cardiovascular system can interfere with the body's ability to adjust blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, blood pressure may drop sharply after sitting or standing, causing a person to feel light-headed or even to faint.

Damage to the nerves that control heart rate can mean that your heart rate stays high instead of rising and falling in response to normal body functions and physical activity.

Nerves control sex organs

Autonomic neuropathy often affects the organs that control urination and sexual function. Nerve damage can prevent the bladder from emptying completely, allowing bacteria to grow in the bladder and kidneys and causing urinary tract infections. When the nerves of the bladder are damaged, urinary incontinence may result because a person may not be able to sense when the bladder is full or control the muscles that release urine.

Autonomic neuropathy will also gradually decrease sexual response in men and women even if the sex drive remains unchanged. A man may be unable to achieve an erection or may not be able to reach sexual climax. A woman may have difficulty with arousal, lubrication or orgasm.

What creates an erection?

The body’s nervous system has two major components – the sympathetic and parasympathetic.  These two systems are designed to be in balance.

The sympathetic nervous system is primarily responsible for accelerating functions in your body.  The sympathetic system is at work when your heart rate goes up, blood pressure increases and breathing accelerates.  This is the system that is primarily affected by stress and inflammation.  The inflammatory response causes this system to become overactive and creates an imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for slowing bodily functions. The parasympathetic is at work when you’re sleeping and your heart rate, breathing, and other organ functions are decreased.

Remember, these two systems are designed to be in balance.  The sympathetic system is overactive when an individual has a lot of stress, injury, trauma, nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, toxicity issues and pain.  When the sympathetic system is overactive, the parasympathetic system is underactive.

How does an erection occur?  The parasympathetic nervous system tells the blood vessels to dilate and provide the blood for an erection to happen.  If the sympathetic nervous system is overactive, the blood vessels do not dilate and the erection does not happen.

The sympathetic nervous system is overactive when you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, pain and almost all health conditions across the spectrum.  When you take medications for these conditions, it creates an additional stress and activates the sympathetic system even more.

Eliminate erectile dysfunction

Prevention is key but the treatment is what matters to you. Changing your lifestyle is the most important recommendation to reverse ED.  ED is a mindset and a confidence killer.  One must understand the causes of diabetic neuropathy and erectile dysfunction so you can protect what you have and want to restore what you’ve lost.

The mindset component also requires you to reduce and eliminate stress in your life. Stress is the primary contributing factor in the inflammatory response, which creates the imbalance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.  ED is not caused by a lack of medications and most importantly, it’s not something wrong with you.

A healthy diet can significantly improve ED.  The primary dietary factor that many people struggle with is the amount of sugar and highly processed food items that they have in their diet.  Sugar is found in breads, cereals, pastas and fruit.  Eating excessive amounts of fruit is not good for diabetes and not good for ED.

Highly processed food items have hidden food colorings, preservatives and chemicals that are not natural.  Processed foods are most things that are in a box, can or bag.

Diabetic neuropathy and ED is aggravated by other lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol and excessive exposure to environmental toxins.  One of the best ways to detoxify and rid your body of toxins is by drinking enough clean, purified water and actively engaging in an exercise regimen.

Exercise is critical for ED

Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  Many types of exercise can create additional stress on the bones, joints and can contribute to inflammation.  One must ensure proper exercise techniques to facilitate results.

High-intensity, short-duration exercise has been shown to most efficient in reducing inflammation, controlling blood sugar and the balancing of the nervous system.  Most exercise techniques are classified as low-intensity, long-duration.

High-intensity, short-duration exercise can be done in ten minutes or less.  Select an exercise and perform the movements as quickly as you can for twenty to thirty seconds.  Rest.  Repeat three times and select a new exercise.

Erectile dysfunction is a significant problem and is a growing concern with the amount of side effects of medications used to treat cardiovascular disease.  Email me for a sample exercise protocol that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard

Three featured columns:


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