Erectile dysfunction(ED) may be something of a taboo subject, but it has a real impact on those who experience it.
Often confused with simply being a case of low libido, ED is usually the result of several factors and can indicate that other underlying health issues exist.
While there is a considerable market for ‘male enhancement pills, this form of treatment is not without its downsides.
Here we explore the role which lifestyle factors such as dehydration can have on erectile dysfunction (ED) and what you can do to improve the common but annoying condition today.
What’s the link between dehydration and erectile dysfunction?
You might be wondering what effect mild dehydration could possibly have on the dysfunction of your penis during sexual intercourse.
The reality is, a strong connection exists between how hydrated we are and our ability to perform sexually.
Our ability to maintain an erection requires multiple aspects of our physiology to be on top form, from the health of our blood pressure to the state of our blood vessels. Dehydration can affect many of our key bodily systems, and therefore, impact our ED risk.
Dehydration is more likely to be a cause of ED when it occasionally occurs, from time to time.
Essentially, we want to encourage sufficient blood flow into the area around the penis.
This ensures that all of the blood vessels and nerves associated with getting and maintaining an erection receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function well.
Ways that dehydration can affect erectile dysfunction
- A lack of blood flow into the area surrounding the penis
- A lack of nutrients and oxygen getting where they need to go
- An increase in overall high blood pressure preventing blood from reaching the penis via constricted blood vessels
- Damage to the delicate blood vessels surrounding the penis, which can dampen sensation and reduce libido
So, now we know exactly how dehydration can trigger ED episodes, we need to learn about how to tell if we are running low on fluids and just what we should do about it.
Luckily, there are usually some pretty clear indications that we need to drink more.
Below are some of the main indications that we are suffering from mild/ moderate dehydration:
- Dark-colored urine- we want to aim for a light, pale color.
- Less frequent urination/ less urine being produced
- Dry mouth
- If our dehydration is more severe, we may experience dizziness/ confusion and fatigue
As well as these ‘symptoms,’ we can also experience a series of other consequences, not directly related to ED, but confirming our need to drink more.
Risks of dehydration
- Increased chance of urinary tract infections
- Kidney stones
- Kidney infection
- Electrolyte imbalance
How can we reduce our risk of dehydration?
Improving our hydration status is not just a question of drinking more water. Of course, we want to aim for 8 or so glasses of water per day, but other factors also impact how hydrated we are.
Suppose we drink a lot of caffeine-containing beverages. In that case, we may risk dehydration, as caffeine acts as a diuretic- causing us to urinate more often and therefore reduce our fluid levels.
Other factors influencing hydration include how much we exercise or sweat during exercise. If we are super active or live in a hot climate, we likely will need extra fluid to replace these losses.
If we are particularly active or lose a lot of fluid through sweat, it can be worth considering our balance of electrolytes also, as this can also become out of sync with dehydration.
Of course, considering our alcohol intake is also vital, as this is a substantial contributing factor to dehydration. Be sure to limit your alcohol and increase your fluid intake accordingly.
What else impacts our risk of ED?
We can see that dehydration poses a considerable risk for us to develop occasional ED, but it’s certainly not the only factor.
Here, we examine which other issues might contribute to male sexual dysfunction:
- High blood pressure: As we previously discussed, one of the reasons dehydration impacts our sexual performance is that it tends to elevate our blood pressure. High blood pressure involves a constriction of blood vessels, which prevents the free flow of blood to the area surrounding the penis. Treat high blood pressure by reducing sodium in the diet, following a DASH style diet (low-fat dairy, high veg, fruit, and whole grains), exercising, managing stress, and upping your intake of omega 3).
- Heart disease: Similarly, the restriction of blood vessels from hypertension causes trouble maintaining an erection when the blood vessels suffer from a build-up of the plaques linked to heart disease (arteriosclerosis). Blood flow to the penis is also impaired. You can help to prevent heart disease by reducing saturated fats, increasing oily fish and olive oil, following a Mediterranean style diet, exercising for 1 hour a day, sleeping well, and managing stress.
- Obesity: obesity appears to increase our risk of ED by damaging delicate blood vessels involved in sexual performance, promoting inflammation, and lowering testosterone- the male sex hormone associated with a healthy libido. Manage your weight by balancing your blood sugar, avoiding refined carbs, trying to eat within an 8-hour window, and reducing stress.
- Diabetes: The main detrimental consequences of diabetes relate to how extra blood glucose damages blood vessels. This is particularly the case with the blood vessels involved in obtaining an erection. Lluckily, pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes are reversible conditions, both improved by better blood sugar maintenance. We can balance our blood glucose by avoiding eating lots of white refined carbs, ‘added sugars’ and choosing low GI carbs, eaten together with healthy proteins and fats.
- Parkinson’s disease: with this disease, the inability to get an erection is connected to the way the condition affects the body’s nervous system. In Parkinson’s patients, ED is often made worse by a general lack of sex drive. You will need a multidisciplinary team to help manage the sexual side effects of this condition. This may involve medication and other forms of counseling.
- Alcohol overuse: while the odd glass of wine may relax you and promote sexual activity, going overboard can have the opposite effect. Alcohol use, in excess, encourages dehydration, impairs the crucial mind-body signaling involved in getting an erection and maintaining sexual desire. try to avoid drinking more than the recommended 14 units a week, and have 2-3 alcohol-free days per week. If you feel that your drinking has become a concern, then seek help from a medical professional.
- Low testosterone: this isn’t one of the most common causes of ED and is more commonly linked to loss of libido. However, it can contribute to sexual dysfunction for some men, and therefore it is worth pursuing if you think it is relevant for you. To naturally increase testosterone levels, ensure that you obtain adequate protein in your diet, increase your resistance exercises, and aim to avoid phytoestrogenic foods such as soy.
- Enlarged prostate: it is more the treatment of this condition that causes the trouble rather than the underlying disease itself. Surgery to rectify an enlarged prostate can lead to temporary or ongoing damage to the blood vessels around the penis. It may, at least for a while, reduce a man’s ability to obtain a sustained erection. It may be a matter of waiting and seeing if this issue resolves itself once the body heals post-surgery; otherwise, sexual enhancement pills may be an option.
- Stress: as with most physical issues, there is often a psychological element, and maintaining a penile erection is no different. Stress can elevate blood pressure, affect testosterone levels, reduce libido and potentially impact blood flow to the penis.
- Chill out: find ways to relax through exercise, yoga, meditation, and rest. It is important to remember that worrying about the condition itself is more likely to increase your chance of it happening again. So, therefore, once other causative factors have been ruled out, you can focus on relaxing instead.
- Medication use: A number of commonly used drugs have the potential to impact ED, whether through impacting blood flow, orthostatic hypotension, or hydration levels. In particular, the following drugs may have a part to play in ED and may require modification via your doctor.
- Blood pressure meditation
- Parkinson’s drugs
Whilst you may not be able to stop these medications, cold turkey, especially if they are essential as part of the treatment for other chronic conditions, it may be possible to try a different brand of the same drug, which is sometimes enough to alleviate the issue.
The best ways to prevent erectile issues
To summarise the above, we have set out some key, simple tips which will allow you to improve your general health and reduce many of the risk factors associated with ED. As a bonus, these changes also reduce your risk of other major chronic diseases!
1) Eat Right
Aiming for a nutrient-dense med-style diet will ensure you get a good range of heart-healthy fats in the form of olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. By reducing sodium, eating plenty of whole grains and veggies, you will help maintain a healthy weight, balance your blood sugar, and promote your blood vessels’ health.
2) Move more
Regular exercise encourages blood flow throughout the body- sending fresh oxygen and nutrients to where it is required. The side effect of exercise is that it also promotes healthy testosterone production, regulates our libido, and helps ward off heart disease and diabetes.
3) Keep your drinking under control
although tempting, regularly exceeding healthy alcohol intake limits not only affects your blood vessel health and hampers sexual performance but also increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and other conditions associated with ED
When to see a doctor
As a one-time event, ED doesn’t need to have you running to your doctor. Although it is worth being aware that the anxiety caused by one episode can predispose it to happen again, generally if it is a one-off affair, or only now and again, it is likely that your erectile dysfunction is caused by one of the temporary and transient factors such as dehydration, stress or alcohol overuse.
However, occasionally ED can be associated with an underlying condition impairing the blood flow to the penis, such as heart disease or diabetes. Similarly, as low testosterone and Parkinsons can also be causes of this condition, it may be worth going for a check-up if ED is a regular occurrence and you experience other symptoms relating to chronic disease.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition, often caused by easily fixable issues such as dehydration
- Dehydration affects blood flow to the penis, blood pressure, and sexual function and therefore is a key lifestyle factor to address in the management of erectile dysfunction
- Avoiding excess caffeine, drinking plenty of water, and replenishing electrolytes can all reduce the risk of dehydration
- Dehydration can show up as dark urine, fatigue and can increase our risk of other conditions such as kidney stones
- Other causes of ED include a range of chronic diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure, and most of these can be improved by lifestyle factors in combination with medication when needed
- If you often suffer from ED, you may want to consider seeking your doctor’s help, especially if you have other symptoms of chronic disease.