By Ana Sandoiu
New research, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, suggests that genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes may be a cause of erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects approximately 30 million adults in the United States.
There are several risk factors, including older age, being overweight, and being a smoker.
Having certain other conditions, such as diabetes, some types of cardiovascular disease, and chronic liver disease can also predispose someone to ED.
For instance, the risk of developing ED is two to three times higher in people with type 2 diabetes than in those without the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
So far, the evidence supporting the link between type 2 diabetes and ED has only been observational, meaning that researchers could not establish causality.
However, a new study strengthens the link between the two conditions and confirms that a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes can lead to ED. The findings also add to the mounting evidence that certain genetic locations are associated with ED.
Anna Murray, an associate professor at the University of Exeter Medical School, and Professor Michael Holmes, of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford — both in the United Kingdom — led the new research.
Murray and colleagues carried out a so-called genome-wide association study. In it, they examined data from over 220,000 men from three different population cohorts: the UK Biobank, the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu cohort, and the Partners HealthCare Biobank.
Of the total number of men, 6,000 experienced ED. The researchers used complex genetic analysis to investigate the relationships between diabetes, body weight, and ED.
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ED is unlikely to be a consequence of diabetes treatment, suggest the researchers. An insufficient number of clinical trials have found that improving blood sugar control as part of diabetes treatment resulted in ED, they say, so few conclusions can be drawn about the link between ED risk and diabetes treatment.
"Erectile dysfunction affects at least 1 in 5 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," explains Murray.
Co-first author and doctoral student Jonas Bovijn also comment on the study, saying, "We know that there is observational evidence linking erectile dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, but until now there has not been definitive evidence to show that predisposition to type 2 diabetes causes erectile dysfunction."