Many men suffer from erectile dysfunction, a problem that often foreshadows cardiovascular disorders. It appears that vitamin D plays a preventive role by way of several mechanisms that can even benefit diabetics, according to a new meta-analysis published in Clinical Nutrition. An earlier study that is published in Clinical Endocrinology shows that vitamin D is involved in the production of male testosterone, which is essential for the ability to obtain and maintain an erection. A man’s sexual performance is therefore highly dependent on his vitamin D levels throughout life.
Erectile dysfunction or impotence may be rooted in either psychological or physiological problems. The risk increases with age and is even linked to diabetes. Erectile problems often foreshadow cardiovascular issues, as the penile blood vessels are calcified, which means that not enough blood is able to entre these tissues. Common cardiovascular diseases and erectile dysfunction are therefore linked to the same risk factors, including smoking, overweight, ageing, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (prediabetes) that is characterized by insulin resistance, enlarged waist circumference, hypertension, elevated levels of LDL, and low HDL.
Oxidative stress, cardiovascular diseases, and erectile dysfunction
A major cause of cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction is oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defense. Free radicals attack cholesterol, which is otherwise essential, causing it to oxidize and become embedded in the vessel wall in the form of foam cells that set the stage for atherosclerosis. Free radicals are generated by factors like smoking, overweight, ageing, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. These risk factors are also associated with low-grade, chronic inflammation, which is uncontrollable and constitutes a free radical burden to the body.
Vitamin D prevents erectile dysfunction and atherosclerosis by way of several mechanisms
Vitamin D is primarily known for its role in regulating the body’s calcium uptake, which is important for bone health. However, nearly all cells in the body have vitamin D receptors (VDR), and the vitamin appears to control a variety of genes and biochemical processes in the body. According to the new meta-analysis, vitamin D plays an important role in preventing atherosclerosis by way of the following mechanisms:
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines
- Reduces dyslipidemia that is a blanket term for any lipid disturbance in plasma, including levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
- Reduces damage to the endothelial cells of blood vessels, which play a particularly great role in the fine capillaries that are of vital importance for the exchange of gases, nutrients, and metabolic waste products between the blood and tissue cells.
Lack of vitamin D is associated with serious erectile problems
The scientists gathered data from 431 published articles and ended up with eight that matched the criteria for their meta-analysis. They looked at a total of 4,055 men and compared their degree of erectile function and vitamin D levels. It turned out that those men that lacked vitamin D scored significantly lower on the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) compared with the control group.
The scientists also observed that patients with serious testicular dysfunction had lower vitamin D levels in their blood compared with men who had minor erectile problems. The scientists therefore concluded that there is a direct link between low blood levels of vitamin D and the presence of severe erectile problems. The new meta-analysis is published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
Vitamin D, testosterone, and changing seasons
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, is needed to obtain and maintain an erection until sexual climax and discharge of semen. If a man lacks testosterone, his libido will often be reduced to the point where he has difficulty with having an erection.
Another study that is published in Clinical Endocrinology shows that lack of vitamin D is associated with low testosterone levels. In this study, the researchers also observed that the lowest vitamin D levels were seen during the spring period, at which point the liver’s stored vitamin D supply from sun exposure during the summer is almost depleted.
Summer sun and supplements may help the widespread deficiency problems
At the northern latitudes, the summer sun is our main source of vitamin D. During the winter period, however, many people become deficient. Factors like too much time spent indoors, dark skin, overuse of sun factor crème, overweight, type 2 diabetes, ageing, and cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) make it increasingly difficult to produce or utilize the vitamin, and that increases the risk of chronic deficiency problems.
Many scientists claim that humans need a lot more vitamin D than the recommended amount, not least because the vitamin is required by our circulatory system and our sensitive hormone balance. Vitamin D requirements vary from person to person. On a hot summer day, one can easily produce between 20-100 micrograms of vitamin D by spending time outdoors in light clothing. Supplements with 20-80 micrograms of vitamin D are also available on the market.
Vitamin D is lipid-soluble so supplements with vitamin D in an oily solution give optimal utilization. Just for the record, we also need magnesium to convert and activate the form of vitamin D that we get from sun exposure. This process takes place in the liver and kidneys.
Andrea Crafa et al. Is There an Association Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Erectile Dysfunction? A Systemic Review and meta-analysis. Nutrients 2020
Wehr E et al. Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology 2010
Pilz S et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Hormone Metabolic Research 2011
Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016
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