London - Diabetes significantly raises the risk of impotence, researchers have proven.
A major study by the universities of Exeter and Oxford has convincingly shown that type 2 diabetes is a cause of erectile dysfunction.
The researchers examined health data from more than 220 000 men – and showed that a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes is linked to erectile problems.
But they stressed that just because some people are genetically predisposed to diabetes, it is not their inevitable fate. Men who improve their lifestyle – for example, by exercising more and eating better – can avoid diabetes and have a functioning sex life.
In time, the researchers believe common diabetes drugs could be "repurposed" for treatment of impotence.
Researcher Dr Anna Murray, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "Erectile dysfunction affects at least one in five men over 60, yet up until now little has been known about its cause.
"Our paper echoes recent findings that the cause can be genetic, and it goes further.
"We found that a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes is linked to erectile dysfunction. That may mean that if people reduce their diabetes risk through healthier lifestyles, they may also avoid erectile dysfunction."
Diabetes is the fastest-growing health crisis, with the number of sufferers having doubled in 20 years.
The problem is largely driven by obesity – 90 percent of patients with the condition suffer from the type 2 form, which is linked to lifestyle and diet. Diabetes is a major health problem, putting the kidneys, heart, eyes and brain at risk – and this study shows it can also affect a man’s sex life.
Medical firms have long vied to find ways to treat erectile dysfunction. When drugs giant Pfizer launched Viagra in 1998, its share price doubled within days. Since then, the pills have pulled in more than £1-billion every year, even after its patent ended in 2013. But not all men respond to the drug, and many dislike using it.
Erectile dysfunction is caused by poor blood flow to the groin. Diabetes also affects blood flow. Researcher Professor Michael Holmes, of the University of Oxford, said: "Our finding is important as diabetes is preventable and indeed one can now achieve 'remission' …This goes beyond finding a genetic link to erectile dysfunction to a message that is of widespread relevance, especially considering the burgeoning prevalence of diabetes."