Type 2 diabetes may be linked to erectile dysfunction

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PEOPLE who had genetic risk factors
for type 2 diabetes were more likely
to have erectile dysfunction (ED) than those without these risk factors, researchers revealed in a study published today (Dec. 20) in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The researchers analyzed data gathered in three different databases: the UK Biobank, the Estonian GenomeCenter of the University of Tartu cohort and the Partners HealthCare Biobank. The study involved more than 220,000 men, around 6,000 of whom had erectile dysfunction.
In the study, researchers wanted to see what conditions or genetic traits might predispose people to ED. They looked at a bunch of genetic variants — different flavors of genes — that previous groups had identified as risk factors for developing conditions such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, all of which are also linked to ED.Looking for genes that may increase a person’s risk for these disease is far from straightforward, however. For example, previous research has identified about 100 gene variations that are linked to type 2 diabetes alone. So, for each condition, the researchers calculated a “genetic risk factor score,” based on the number of risk-increasing gene variants a person had.
Then, the researchers looked to see if there were any links between a person’s genetic risk factor score and ED. They found that men with ED were more likely to have a high risk factor score for type 2 diabetes, compared with men without ED. The researchers didn’t find a strong association between ED and risk factor scores for any of the other conditions they looked at, however.
The study suggests that “having a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes … also predisposes you to having [ED],” said co-senior author Anna Murray, associate professor of human genetics at the University of Exeter in the U.K. And the findings are strong enough, according to Murray, to suggest a cause-and-effect link between the two conditions.
It makes “good biological sense,” Murray added. While on the face of it the conditions may seem unrelated, type 2 diabetes can cause nerve damage and problems with blood vessels. The latter especially is very important in maintaining an erection, Murray told Live Science.
As to why they didn’t see a link between ED and higher body mass index (BMI) or cardiovascular disease, Murray said that she thinks that either the researchers need a larger sample size of people, or that it was just “bad luck” that they didn’t see it. In the literature, for example, “there’s strong evidence that having an increased BMI in itself causes erectile dysfunction,” she said.

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