If you're an overweight man with diabetes, changing your eating habits may improve your life more than popping a pill can.
A new study concludes that even for men with diabetes that's well-controlled by medication, dieting can improve the erectile dysfunction and urological problems commonly experienced.
"Lower urinary tract symptoms are often ignored," said Dr. Gary Wittert, an endocrinologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who led the research. "But they may affect up to 40 percent of the overweight, diabetic population."
These symptoms, Wittert said, include erectile dysfunction and overactive bladder syndrome, which is often characterized by urinating frequently and urgently.
"Medication is expensive, medical care is expensive, here's a lifestyle change that's quick, cheap, easy, and can improve health substantially beyond anything that medication can do," Wittert said.
The study is published online today (Aug. 5) in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Sex lives & liquid diets
Wittert and his colleagues studied a group of 31 obese men with Type 2 diabetes, and screened them for sexual and urological problems. They put the men on one of two diets: a low-calorie diet using liquid meal replacements, or a high-protein diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meat and fish.
After eight weeks, the men on the liquid meal diet had lost between 8 and 10 percent of their body weight, and the men on the high-protein diet had lost 5 percent of their weight. In addition, both groups of men said they had improved urological and sexual health.
The study followed the men for a year, switching all the men to the high-protein, more nutritional diet after eight weeks. By the end, the men from both groups had lost around 10 percent of their weight and had continued to show improvement in erectile and urologic function.
On average, their scores on a scale used to measure erectile function had improved from the "severe erectile dysfunction" category to the "mild erectile dysfunction" score.
And blood tests done throughout the year showed that dieting lowered the levels of inflammation in the men's bodies. Inflammation could be part of what causes urological problems in overweight men, the researchers said.
But it's not just weight loss
This study adds to the case that lifestyle changes should be a first course of treatment when men complain of erectile dysfunction, said Dr. Hunter Wessells, chairman of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Wessells is also working on a study in the U.S. that aims to look at the effect of exercise on erectile dysfunction.
"Even setting diabetes aside," Wessells said, "obese men have one and a half times the risk of erectile dysfunction." He also said that he sees more kidney stones and urinary incontinence in obese individuals.
He said he expects that exercise will have a different effect on these symptoms than weight loss that's due to dieting.
"The urological problems related to obesity could be hormonal, they could be nerve-related, we don't know," Wessells told MyHealthNewsDaily. "But exercise has a set of potential effects that are not strictly related to weight loss."
Wittert agreed; his team is also planning to integrate exercise into their next study. He said he already tells his diabetic patients to integrate a daily walk into their routine.
"When you get home," he said, "instead of sitting down in front of the telly, take your wife by the hand and say, 'Come, darling, let's go for a walk.' After a month of this, her heart will get fonder and your erection will get stronger."
Pass it on: For overweight, diabetic men, weight loss can relieve symptoms of erectile dysfunction and overactive bladder syndrome.