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Impotence in general and obesity

Obesity and infertility have been linked traditionally through non-scientific means. Many women can be turned off or even repulsed by men who are overweight or obese. It has been argued before that this is entirely psychological, but an increasing body of evidence shows that fertility in both men and women and obesity are intricately linked through hormonal imbalances. (1) (2)

The tie to hormones established

Studies of this nature highlight that the body’s metabolism and fertility are intricately linked. When it comes to the male body, this means that a diet high in sugar that causes obesity is the cause of a multitude of illnesses, but particularly for this article it is the relationship between impotence that is interesting. Men who are obese have a very high ratio of body-fat and for this reason, they end up in a cycle of constantly eating. Body-fat contains stored hormones called leptin, adipokines and cytokines, which when released into the bloodstream can raise appetite levels. (3) This cycle also causes insulin to be released from the pancreas, which tries to control the blood-sugar and blood-fat levels. As people gain more weight, they start developing a desensitization to insulin. In females, the insulin reacts with hormones which are released from the pituitary gland that interfere with fertility. (4) A similar mechanism works with males, but the exact details have not yet been studied. What is known is that being overweight directly correlates with a lower testosterone. (5)

A healthy, balanced diet can work against obesity

This supports the idea that a healthy and balanced diet, restricted in the intake of sugar-producing foods, can lead to a balanced natural fertility cycle, in both men and women. It’s likely that the foods we consume have a direct relationship to spermatogenesis, but this has yet to be studied in great detail. With this in mind, the old saying, “you are what you eat” takes on a whole new meaning. Similar research in the future can lead to treatment of type 2 diabetes as well. (6)

Obesity and infertility in men

The link between obesity in men and men’s infertility is not as well established as the studies in females, as most of them have only been conducted since the 1990s. For example, one of the first studies published was able to find a correlation between impotence in men and their obesity levels. (7) It was discovered that the men who had an increased body mass index were very much more likely to be infertile than men with a normal body-weight. (8) The study does point out that reduced semen quality and hormonal imbalances are also possibly linked to infertility in obese men. (9)

A later study suggests that obesity in men finds an association with low testosterone levels. (10) Furthermore, it specifies that at least in men who are “massively obese,” there is a problem with reduced spermatogenesis (replenishment of sperm in the testicles), (11) which is caused by severe hypotestosteronemia (a deficiency in testosterone) (12) (13) Erectile dysfunction was also linked to increasing body mass index in the same study. (14)

In a similar study, both body mass index and skinfold thickness were shown to be negatively correlated with testosterone levels. The higher the BMI and the thicker the layers of body-fat under the skin, the lower the testosterone level. (14) Obesity is certainly a factor in impotence in otherwise normal men and in a further recent study, obesity, probably through interaction with hormones, can change sperm parameters and cause erectile dysfunction. (15) Sperm was both less motile and less densely concentrated. (16)

A study performed using data from about 1,500 Danish men in 2004 showed a similar result. (17) Semen quality deteriorated noticeably in men who were considered overweight or obese. Normally, the hormones Serum T, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), inhibin B, free androgen index and E2 are in balance. But in overweight men, the first three decrease while the last two, free androgen index and E2 increase. This imbalance in the hormones created is what causes a drop in the quality of the sperm. (17) Interestingly, this study did not find any correlation between semen volume and the percentage of motile spermatozoa with regards to obesity. (18)

How to solve infertility caused by obesity

In general, obesity has been shown to have a significant effect on fertility issues in both men and women. This has been shown to happen on a biochemical level, but since hormones and physical appearance also have an effect on psychology there could also be other factors at play that work in tandem with the effects of obesity on the body on the chemical level. A review of literature conducted recently indicates that a number of factors could be responsible with regards to obesity and impotence. (19) The complexity of the altered hormonal profile can suggest that the risk of altered semen and infertility is related to obesity. (20) Additionally, this study mentions that factors which might contribute to impotence are “altered retention and metabolism of environmental toxins, altered lifestyle factors, and increased risks for sexual dysfunction.” (21) Further studies need to be done to determine the exact underlying mechanisms, so that drug treatments can be developed. For the moment though, and perhaps the sanest option anyway, as with all obesity-related disorders, diseases and illnesses, is to lose weight by altering your diet and introducing regular physical exercise to your routine.