Vitamin D is dubbed the “sunshine vitamin” because the body absorbs it through direct exposure to the sun from about late March/early April to the end of September. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, nutrients that are needed to keep bones healthy. As a result, the most common warning sign of a prolonged vitamin D deficiency is bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
A lesser-known warning sign associated with a vitamin D deficiency is erectile dysfunction in men.
In a study published in International Journal of Endocrinology, a team of Italian scientists sought to confirm this relationship and determine whether vitamin D supplementation might benefit men with sexual issues.
The study was divided into two parts. First, the team analysed medical data from 114 men (median age 64) who sought care for sexual problems at the researchers’ andrology clinic from 2003 to the present.
Second, they looked at data from a subsample of 41 men (median age 65) who received vitamin D therapy. The men took 50,000 to 100,000 IU of cholecalciferol weekly, every two or three weeks, or monthly.
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In addition, higher levels of total testosterone were associated with better erectile function and higher total IIEF scores.
The subset of 41 men who underwent vitamin D therapy also saw increases in their total and free testosterone levels and better erectile function.
The authors outlined a number of factors that may underpin the relationship.
Vitamin D might protect endothelial cells from oxidative stress, thus improving erections, researchers suggested.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. Antioxidants are compounds that are thought to protect against unstable molecules called free radicals.
Also, vitamin D deficiency is associated with cardiovascular risk that can also affect sexual function – healthy levels of vitamin D may mitigate this risk and, in turn, benefit sexual health, the study authors added.
How to treat a vitamin D deficiency
Some people won’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
A-risk groups should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year, according to the Department of Health (DoH).
Who is at risk?
According to the DoH, at-risks include people who:
- Aren’t often outdoors – for example, if you’re frail or housebound
- Are in an institution like a care home
- Usually wear clothes that cover most of your skin when outdoors