The new generation of weight loss drugs such as Ozempic (also known as semaglutide) has been hailed as a miracle weight loss solution. It’s been approved for use for certain health conditions such as type 2 diabetes by medical regulation agencies in the US and Europe. 

In the UK, it’s available on the NHS for people living with obesity and type 2 diabetes who meet certain criteria, but can only be prescribed by specialist weight management services. It’s not currently available as a weight loss treatment without a prescription, but other products that work in a similar way such as Saxenda are.

These products work by suppressing the appetite and creating a feeling of fullness, so that hunger cravings are reduced and the patient eats less, resulting in weight loss. They have received a lot of attention in the media as celebrities have endorsed the drug and it’s thought to be used widely within the entertainment industry. 

However, the weight loss drugs do have side effects. The most common include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and constipation, which may lessen as the body adjusts. However, Yahoo News reports that users are complaining of side effects that aren’t listed in the official guidelines, including erectile dysfunction (ED). 

Some of this evidence appears to be anecdotal, with alarming posts from male users claiming that the drug caused them to be almost or completely unable to get an erection. However, there is some scientific evidence to suggest that the drug causes low testosterone levels in some men, which can have a knock-on effect on sex drive. 

However, this contradicts other scientific evidence that weight loss can reverse low testosterone levels in males. This leaves some confusion about what is fact and fiction when it comes to the link between ED and weight loss treatments.

The picture is complicated, and there are no straightforward answers because it depends on the overall health condition and age of the patient, among other factors. Obesity is a risk factor for ED, as is type 2 diabetes, so it is difficult to know if the drug is definitely the cause of ED, or if it is down to other risk factors.

One recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that prescribing weight loss drugs for men without type 2 diabetes did increase the risk of developing ED and testosterone deficiency. The impact on men with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes requires further investigation.

The authors of the study compared 2,117 non-diabetic males with a prescription for Semaglutide with a control group. They noted: “In this claims-based analysis, we found that non-diabetic males with a prescription of Semaglutide have a significantly higher risk of developing ED and testosterone deficiency.”

They continued: “Rates of erectile dysfunction in men prescribed Semaglutide are overall low at 1.4% but, we were surprised that these rates were so much higher than those not receiving Semaglutide as we expected that weight loss drugs would improve erectile function.”

“Further studies are needed to assess the impact of Semaglutide in non-diabetic men to assess how this drug impacts the male hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Despite its increasing popularity for weight loss, both clinicians and patients should be aware of potential hormonal effects when discussing and considering the medication.”

According to Diabetes UK, up to 75 per cent of men with type 2 diabetes will also experience ED during their lifetime, so unpicking the cause and effect presents a particularly difficult challenge for researchers. It may be that the benefits of losing weight and managing diabetic symptoms take priority for some patients. 

ED can be treated in several ways, although anyone experiencing difficulties is strongly advised to contact their doctor in the first instance. This is because it’s important to establish the underlying causes and rule out a serious health condition such as high blood pressure or heart disease. 

For the majority of men, ED can be successfully treated with medications such as tadalafil (the trade name of Cialis). It works by increasing the flow of blood to the penis, making it easier to get an erection. It’s available without a prescription after a short consultation with a pharmacist, which can be done online or face-to-face.  

If the drug is purchased online, it will be posted out promptly in discreet packaging to maintain confidentiality.