Does Vitamin D Deficiency Contribute to Erectile Dysfunction?
By The Rex MD Editorial TeamMarch 19, 2021
In today's world, people are spending more time in the confines of their home and less time in the great outdoors. Television, phones, and the internet are the main culprits of robbing people of the outdoors, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic that began in 2020. While it may not seem immediately obvious, this transition to more time spent indoors can have negative impacts on your health. Aside from being physically inactive, decreased exposure to sunlight can lead to a vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is an important biological molecule that carries out many important functions in the human body. When deficient, different parts of the body can suffer from less-than-peak function. Below is a detailed look at vitamin D and how it functions in the body as well as how it impacts your sexual health.
What is Vitamin D?
The scientific name for active vitamin D is calcitriol. Vitamin D is actually somewhat of a misleading name for what it is: Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that can act as a messenger to regulate different bodily functions. The term vitamin is typically utilized for organic compounds that need to be obtained through diet. Because vitamin D can be obtained through your diet in addition to direct sunlight exposure, it makes it a distinct vitamin because the body can produce it entirely on its own.
The chemical synthesis of vitamin D in the body requires sunlight as a means of facilitating a chemical reaction. A type of cholesterol called 7-dehydrocholesterol is transformed into Vitamin D through the photochemical conversion that occurs in the plasma membrane of the skin cells exposed to UV radiation.
Dietary vitamin D is commonly consumed through fish, eggs, and foods fortified with vitamin D like cereal. Obtaining Vitamin D through food can be a difficult task, especially if you follow diets that avoid the consumption of animal products as fish and other meats are rich sources of vitamin D.
The nice thing about vitamin D is that there are many ways that you can increase your levels, many of which can fit you and your lifestyle. Going outside more, eating more vitamin D-rich foods, or even taking vitamin D supplements are great ways to ensure you're getting enough vitamin D.
What Does Vitamin D Do in the Body?
As described briefly, vitamin D has a wide impact on different bodily functions. From supporting mineral balance to supporting good bone health, vitamin D is a crucial component in your overall health. Below is a breakdown of what vitamin D does in the body and how it impacts different aspects of you and your daily functioning.
Maintain Mineral Balance
One of the largest reasons that vitamin D is essential within your body is that it helps to maintain a proper mineral balance within the body. Vitamin D assists with the absorption of minerals like calcium, phosphate, and magnesium. These minerals are utilized throughout the body and contribute to other vital organic compounds synthesized within the body.
As an example, magnesium is necessary to over 300 different biochemical reactions in the human body. Because vitamin D plays a supportive role in the absorption of minerals, it can ensure that you are getting the most minerals out of your food. When deficient in vitamin D, the ability to absorb some of these minerals through your diet can be severely diminished.
Along the same lines of increasing calcium absorption, vitamin D plays a vital role in good bone health. A common misconception about the human body is that bones are stagnant structures in the body. People typically think of it like a frame on a house. However, while the bones do provide shape and structure to your body, they are constantly changing, adapting, and are living tissue just like any other part of your body.
Bones play a crucial role in maintaining the free calcium concentration in the body within a safe range. To accomplish this, bones act as a savings account for calcium. When there is more calcium needed in the body, cells called osteoblasts take free-floating calcium and deposit it into the bone. When calcium levels are low, cells called osteoclasts remove some of the calcium on the bone to restore the proper calcium concentration in the body. Vitamin D is thought to assist in this continuous cycle by providing the necessary balance of phosphorus and calcium to allow for mineralization and deposition of calcium.
Aid in Parathyroid Functioning
As described previously, calcium regulation within the body is tightly controlled. The mastermind behind this closely monitored balance is the parathyroid. The tight regulation of calcium in the body is necessary because calcium ions play a pivotal role in allowing muscle contraction and nerve propagation. Vitamin D assists the goal of the parathyroid with calcium absorption and storage.
How Can Vitamin D Deficiency Lead to ED?
The link between vitamin D deficiency and ED is fairly well documented, but the proposed mechanism by which a lack of vitamin D facilitates an inability to attain an erection is unknown.
Emerging research seems to indicate that ED caused by vitamin D deficiency is most likely linked to cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D's regulation of calcium has a large positive effect on cardiovascular health. The development of both ED and cardiovascular disease have strong associations with a deficiency in vitamin D.
The links between cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction are well understood because an erection is highly reliant on the circulatory system. When circulation is hindered, the necessary blood flow to the penis may not be attainable for those that have progressive cardiovascular disease.
Who is at Risk for Developing Vitamin D Deficiency?
The basic answer is that a vast majority of people in the United States are at risk for developing a vitamin D deficiency. As stated in the beginning of the article, technology is robbing people of the outdoors and the sunlight they need to produce endogenous vitamin D.
While the government tries its best to encourage fortification of foods with vitamin D, many people are not thinking about their vitamin D consumption and do not get the necessary recommended daily value of vitamin D. If you're not eating fish on a daily basis, it's quite difficult to get all your vitamin D through diet alone. In fact, if you look at the amount of vitamin D a typical egg has and your recommended daily allowance, you would see that you would need to consume over ten eggs to cover all your vitamin D!
People who may be at a higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency include:
Those With Indoor Occupations
Sunlight is a great tool for reducing the chances of vitamin D deficiency, and having a desk job could rob you of time in the sun. If you try to get a couple of minutes of sun exposure a day, you can improve your chances.
Skin color is another component that can affect your ability to attain healthy levels of circulation. The skin color causative molecule melanin helps protect the skin from UV radiation. While this can protect DNA from damage, it hinders some vitamin D synthesis.
From an evolutionary perspective, this finding becomes quite interesting. When looking at the migration of humans out of Africa and the following societies that were developed later on, it is interesting to note that areas that typically get less sunlight per year like those closer to the poles had societies where melanin was mostly absent in the population, while societies near the equator like Africa retained melanin in their skin as excess UV radiation could cause damage.
What Else Puts You at a Greater Risk for Developing ED?
Vitamin D deficiency-based erectile dysfunction most likely makes up a small portion of the total ED diagnosis. The largest contributing factors to the onset of ED are lifestyle and environmental influences. Research is continually being conducted to learn more about the causative agents of ED, and recent research indicates that ED might have an underlying genetic risk factor.
In closing, it is not entirely known whether or not vitamin D deficiency itself causes ED or if the systemic and downstream effects of the deficiency. Research seems to indicate that it's more likely the latter, because vitamin D deficiency is also strongly linked to cardiovascular disease, a recognized cause of ED.
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