Erectile dysfunction (ED), when a man has difficulty attaining or maintaining an erection, can feel embarrassing to talk about. But, it’s very common. Over 30 million in the United States have experienced this sexual problem. Though it’s mainly apparent in the nether regions, research shows that the causes of ED can be emotional or physically systemic. Common sources of sexual dysfunction include:
- Deficit in nerve signaling
- Vascular disease (most common), such as high blood pressure, that reduces blood flow
- Endocrine or hormone issues
- Alcohol use
- Cardiovascular disease
It is important to discuss ED with your doctor to rule out physical factors that can be checked through bloodwork. Your healthcare provider may test your blood sugar, cholesterol, and even kidney function. Even though it can occur at any age, men are more likely to have ED in middle-age or later.
RELATED: Can stress and anxiety cause ED?
Does diet affect erectile dysfunction?
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study found an association between dietary cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake and the incidence of ED. Other studies have also shown that eating a Mediterranean diet—mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats (like olive oil)—may prevent ED.
10 foods that help ED
While further research is needed, preliminary evidence shows that eating these foods could be beneficial for men’s health. In addition to decreasing ED, they have other health benefits, making it a win-win to add them to your diet.
A study showed that regularly eating flavonoid-rich foods reduced incidence of ED. Blackberries have six different types of flavonoids. If berries aren’t your thing, dark chocolate is another great source of flavonoids.
Research in animals shows that L-citrulline, which is found in watermelon, might stimulate blood flow to help with ED. In other words, this summertime fruit could have an effect similar to Viagra, increasing circulation to the penis, although further research is needed to evaluate this possibility. It also contains lycopene, which is beneficial for heart health, which is noteworthy if ED is being caused by an underlying condition.
Spinach has high levels of folate (folic acid). Folate is a natural form of vitamin B9. A study found that men who experienced ED often had low levels of folic acid. Further investigation is needed to determine if increasing your intake of folic acid could help you to prevent or reverse the effects of ED.
Oatmeal contains the nonessential amino acid L-arginine, which can relax the smooth muscle lining of blood vessels and increase blood flow. A systemic review and meta analysis has shown that L-arginine supplementation could be effective for ED.
Research examined if eating pistachios would help men who had ED. After three weeks of eating pistachios, the study participants in this small, uncontrolled experiment had a significant improvement in erectile function. Pistachios are a source of antioxidants that might help improve blood flow.
6. Pomegranate juice
Although it was not significantly significant, a study of 53 men at California State University found that 25 of the 42 participants who had improvements with ED during the study achieved this when drinking pomegranate juice for four weeks. Antioxidants found in pomegranate juice, enhance the nitric oxide levels which can improve ED. It’s not proven, but if you enjoy sipping on this tart beverage, it may be worth a try.
The Aztecs named avocados ahuacatl, a Nahuatl word meaning testicle because these green fruits were symbols of love and fertility. In the modern day, it’s known that avocados have high levels of zinc, which may increase testosterone levels.
Bananas are high in potassium. Bananas also contain lots of flavonoids. Research found that men who eat at least three flavonoid-rich foods per week, on average, were 10% less likely to experience ED.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in most types of fish, can help to increase blood flow. Possibly related to this effect, a study found that in an animal model omega-3 fatty acids helped improve ED. Some types of fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include albacore tuna, salmon, herring, mussels, anchovies, swordfish, sardines, mackerel, and trout.
10. Chilli peppers
Research looking at men in Uganda who use capsicum frutescens (chili pepper) to treat ED and found that the spice can be helpful. You know that feeling of your sinuses opening up after you eat something hot and spicy? Chili peppers could increase blood flow by affecting your blood vessels, an effect seen in an animal study.
3 ingredients to avoid for an ED diet
Just like certain foods can help your sexual performance, others may hinder it. If you’ve experienced ED in the past, it’s likely your healthcare provider will recommend cutting back on these three things.
1. Alcohol and sugary drinks
While having a couple drinks to get in the mood might feel like an aphrodisiac, it can have the opposite effect. Drinking alcohol can decrease blood flow, reduce testosterone production, and depress the central nervous system. All of these factors can cause ED.
“Stay away from alcohol,” says Kendrick Heywood, MD, internal medicine physician at HealthGAINS. “It does more harm than good. Sugary foods and sports drinks are also terrible. Stay away from those.”
2. Soy-based products
One case report examined a man who consumed large quantities of soy-based products and found a sudden onset of ED. Another study determined that healthy men who used soy protein powder for four weeks had decreased testosterone levels. Soybeans can reduce the production of androgens and the levels of testosterone which can cause ED.
Licorice candy can lower testosterone levels, according to one study. Low levels of this male hormone could lead to decreased sex drive and increased risk of ED.
Other ways to treat ED
If trying an ED diet alone doesn’t do the trick, you don’t have to settle for a subpar sex life. There are other options to resolve ED—in combination with nutritional modifications or on their own.
The type of treatment you receive will depend on what is causing the ED. If it is an emotional issue then individual or couples counseling may be helpful.
Research has found that physical activity can improve ED in men with vascular ED. It helps to lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health. It can also help to strengthen the pelvic floor—especially with targeted Kegel exercises.
Another benefit is stress reduction. Getting your heart pumping, or finding your zen with yoga, can help reduce stress-related ED.
A study examined how risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity influence ED. The findings suggest that making changes in these areas—stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing alcohol use, and increasing physical activity—might improve ED.
“As far as supplements go, I recommend two: nitric oxide boosters and L-arginine,” says Dr. Heywood. Both boost blood flow, which is what matters when it comes to your manhood.”
Just be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for medical advice before you take any dietary supplements, especially if you are taking medications, since there could be an adverse reaction.
RELATED: What vitamins are good for ED?
If there is a physical cause of the ED, medications can help to relax muscles and increase blood flow. Some common medications are:
These medications can interact with certain food and other medications. For example, grapefruit juice can delay absorption of Viagra and increase the levels in your body. Or, “eating too much food before you take an enhancement pill can lead to reduced absorption and weaker results,” says Christopher Davis, MD, cardiologist at HealthGAINS. “For best results, meds should be taken an hour or two after or before eating a meal. This gives your body more time to process the food and then absorb what’s needed from the meds.”
You should discuss taking ED meds with your healthcare provider if you take blood pressure medication.
You should also not take two different ED medications at the same time. If you combine these medications or if you take Viagra with blood pressure medication you might experience side effects like dizziness—or in severe cases—a heart attack.
What symptoms require a doctor’s visit?
When it comes to ED, two things require a visit to your healthcare provider, according to Dr. Heywood.
- If intimacy is painful for you or your partner, it’s time to make an appointment. This could be a sign of an underlying condition, such as Peyronie’s Disease.
- If ED is consistent, call your healthcare provider. One bout of ED could be an off day. But if it keeps on happening, it’s time to see a physician—and maybe even a cardiologist. ED is an early warning sign of future heart complications. It may also be a warning that testosterone levels are declining, which can be optimized with treatment.
ED is a red flag in men that can save lives. “One of the first stages of heart disease is endothelial dysfunction,” Dr. Davis explains. “Because this dysfunction usually affects the blood vessels in the penis first, ED becomes an early indicator.”
Yes, it can feel uncomfortable to talk about, but having the right tests can prevent a major health issue—along with restoring your confidence in the bedroom.