Sex has always been a taboo subject. People usually feel a certain discomfort when they discuss this matter. Sexual dysfunction is common among people with diabetes. This theme has been discussed during the radio program ‘Pran Ou Diabet en Main’ (PODEM) in May.
Sexual dysfunction can have a negative impact not only in relationships with their partners but also on their physical and mental wellbeing. This can lead to stress and depression. However, they can still lead a more enjoyable, fulfilling sexual life by knowing the common causes and symptoms of sexual difficulties and discussing treatment options with specialists as well as psychologists.
In this article, Dr Hetish Seebah and Teenusha Soobrah (Dietitian) talked about the causes and impact of diabetes and sexuality and its treatments as well as the appropriate foods to stay healthy and help to overcome this issue.
Men, Diabetes & Sexuality
Among men, Erectile Dysfunction(ED) is the most common struggle. It is defined as ‘the inability to sustain an erection adequate enough to successfully complete the act of sexual intercourse’. According to the American Diabetes Association, erectile dysfunction will affect 50% of men with diabetes by the time they are 50 years of age, with a mean age of onset of 45 years.
The cause is mainly due to an abnormally high blood sugar level which can lead to vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and neuritis/ neuropathy (inflammation of nerves).
Another impact related to diabetes is genital yeast infections (candida albicans) that affect both males and females. High blood sugar levels and a decrease in immunity provide an ideal environment for infections.
Women, Diabetes & Sexuality
Vaginal dryness is common amongst older women. Normally, the walls of the vagina stay lubricated with a thin layer of clear fluid. The hormone oestrogen helps to maintain that fluid and keeps the lining of the vagina healthy, thick, and elastic. During menopause, the drop in oestrogen levels reduces the amount of moisture available. It also makes the vagina thinner and less elastic. This can also lead to painful sexual intercourse and sometimes even bleeding and infertility. Emotional factors like lack of sexual desire, difficulty being aroused, frustration, low response to sexual stimuli can also occur.
In order to limit the impacts of sexual disorders among the diabetic patients, it is highly recommended to lead a healthy lifestyle, quit smoking, decrease alcohol consumption and control stress combined with a good monitoring of blood sugar and hypertension.
There are numerous treatment modalities like tablets, injections and ampules. However, these can have negative side effects especially on the cardiovascular system. The patient must first consult a doctor for advice before starting any treatment.
Other advanced methods such as; vacuum-constriction appliance and penile implants are also being used nowadays. A patient can also consult a psychotherapist especially under stress and anxiety.
Food, Nutrition, & Health
Eating the correct foods like whole ingredients that are adequate in protein and low in added sugar allows our body works like a well-oiled machine. “On the other hand, if you’re eating harmful processed foods, it’s difficult for the blood to move around like it should. We have to keep that blood pumping! Our bodies can’t function properly if we’re not providing them the right nutrients,” added Teenusha Soobrah.
People readily accept the link between a high intake of saturated fats, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and a build-up of fatty plaques on the blood vessels around the heart. However, similar plaques develop on the myriad tiny vessels in the penis. Without free-flowing circulation, the penis cannot physically respond to messages from the sex drive, good nerve function, and healthy hormone levels, and consequently leads to low sexual performance.
When we have extra fat, the heart must pump extra blood through the miles of arteries and veins that feed the fat. However, eating foods that help keep arteries pliable and open, compared to junked up and clogged, also helps to get the blood flowing in the right direction and the key to improving sexual function in both men and women.
To keep these systems in working order, a diet should be based on legumes and other complex carbohydrates (whole meal bread or chapathi) along with plenty of fruits and vegetables and modest levels of quality protein (chicken, fish or tofu). This type of diet provides the body with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, are crucial in strengthening the blood vessel walls, as well as good quality dairy products, high fibre cereals, whole grains, and green vegetables to maintain the mucous membranes that line the female reproductive tract. “Broccoli provides you with B vitamins to help sustain energy. It’s also high in vitamin C, which is associated with an improved female libido,” added Teenusha.
Similarly, strawberries are rich in antioxidants that strengthen the heart and arteries. Not only that but, strawberries are packed with vitamin C and when paired with antioxidants it has been linked to a higher sperm count in men. It is common knowledge that zinc is tied to sexual function, although its importance to the sex drive has yet to be explained. Zinc is a mineral that helps produce men’s sex hormones and can boost libido. It is found abundantly in foods of animal origin, including seafood (especially oysters), meat, poultry and liver, as well as eggs, milk, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Contrary to popular belief, eggs are packed with protein, which boosts stamina as well as amino acids to treat erectile dysfunction.
Nuts and seeds such as; almonds, pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts are loaded with nutrients like zinc, selenium, and vitamin E which are all important for sexual health and reproduction. Two Brazil nuts per day provides you the recommended daily intake of Selenium that helps boost fertility while vitamin E improves heart health.
High blood pressure is another main cause of erectile dysfunction. Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, which helps fight high blood pressure as well as enhances your metabolism.
Eating whole unprocessed ingredients, regular consumption of spices such as; ginger and garlic, sleeping well and maintaining a consistent resistance training regimen are the keys to help keep your partner happy for many reasons!