Men's Health

Does diet affect ED?

17th Jul, 05:06

Luke Benedictus
Reviewed by: Dr. Matt Vickers

Food and sex are intimate bedfellows, and not in some pervy way that involves getting crumbs down the front of your pyjamas.

The two principal bodily pleasures are both driven by sharp appetites and have the capacity to trigger feel-good bursts of dopamine in the brain. Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson has built an entire career exploiting the crossover.

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As she says in the introduction of her book, How To Eat (while no doubt tossing her luxuriant brown hair), “I wanted to make food, and my slavering passion for it, the starting point.”

But your diet may also impact on your sex life.  On a basic level it boils down to the issue of general well-being.

If you subside purely on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, your health will eventually suffer and your sexual performance become compromised, too.

Where things get interesting, however, is that research suggests this isn’t just about damage limitation—some foods may actively help you to beat erectile dysfunction.

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Berries and citrus fruit

Researchers from Harvard and the University of East Anglia conducted a joint study that collected data from more than 50,000 middle-aged men over a 40-year period. The subjects were quizzed about their erections, their body weight, physical activity, caffeine consumption, and smoking habits every four years.

The men’s diets were also scrutinised in detail.

The study found that eating just three or four portions of flavonoid-rich food were associated with a reduced risk of ED. In fact, eating a flavonoid-rich diet was found to be as good for erectile function as walking briskly for up to five hours a week.

Two types of flavonoids were discovered to be particularly beneficial in preventing the condition.  The first was Anthocyanins - found in blueberries, cherries, blackberries, radishes and blackcurrant. The second was the flavanones and flavones found in citrus fruits.

"Men who regularly consumed foods high in these flavonoids were ten per cent less likely to suffer erectile dysfunction. In terms of quantities, we're talking just a few portions a week," said Professor Aedin Cassidy of the University of East Anglia


Watermelon contains a protein called arginine, as well as citrulline, an amino acid.

“Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels—the same basic effect that [ED medication] has—to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it,” said Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M’s Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Centre.

But the results of a 2011 study were less mind-blowing. Researchers gave middle-aged men with mild erectile dysfunction a citrulline supplement before getting them to recording the hardness of their erections.

While the study concluded that citrulline consumption had a “significant positive impact”, what that actually translated to was just two of the subjects (eight per cent) reporting stronger erections at the end of the trial.

"To even vaguely hope that eating watermelon will alleviate ED is misleading," the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine said, when commenting on the fruit’s properties.


The aphrodisiac properties of oysters have been trumpeted for centuries. But they could also provide help on a practical level due to their high concentration of the nutrient, zinc.

Research has been conducted on rats to demonstrate the link between zinc and sexual function. Rats that were given five milligrams of a zinc supplement on a daily basis were proven to have better sexual function. As a result, the study concluded that zinc has a positive effect on male arousal and maintaining an erection.

Another study showed a clear link between zinc and testosterone levels. Young men were put on a low zinc diet so they developed a deficiency. In the process, their testosterone levels plummeted by almost 75 per cent.

There’s no doubt that a lack of testosterone can be one of the myriad causes for ED. Unfortunately for fishmongers everywhere, no studies have yet proven that zinc (or indeed oysters) are an effective course of treatment.

Most men with a normal diet rich in fruits and vegetables will have normal zinc levels, and hence don't require supplements. Excessive zinc levels will not help, but zinc supplements can help where there is a natural zinc deficiency.

Pistachio nuts‌‌

Pistachio nuts have also been suggested as a potential bedroom aid. A small study got ED sufferers to eat 100g of the nuts – about three handfuls – every day for three week.

By the end of it, the subjects had become extremely adept at shelling the fiddly little suckers. But more importantly, they recorded a “significant improvement” in the trouser department.

The benefits of pistachios may lie in the fact that they’re packed with antioxidants and, once again, arginine that can boost nitric oxide production to boost blood flow to the penis.


‌‌Your daily espresso habit may help you fire up in the morning. But it could also help to perk you up downstairs, too.

A study in the journal PLOS ONE found that caffeine intake is linked to reduced odds of having ED in men who drink at least two coffees a day.

The researchers took data from 3,700 men who filled out questionnaires about their diets, exercise habits, alcohol consumption, caffeine, and other lifestyle factors.

Men who drank 85-170 mg of caffeine per day were 42 per cent less likely to have dealt with ED. Those who drank 171-303 mg of caffeine were 39 per cent less likely to have the disorder.

These amounts roughly work out to about two to three coffees per day. The benefits all come down to—you guessed it—boosting penile blood flow.

‌‌If you struggle with ED, there’s certainly no harm in tweaking your diet. But there’s no miracle food that is likely to solve your problem.

ED can stem from a vast range of possible causes from high cholesterol and depression to diabetes and stress. Before you start guzzling oysters and handfuls of pistachios, your best course of action is to speak to a doctor.

They’ll be able to diagnose the specific cause of your problem, and suggest the best treatment to ensure you can rise and shine. ‌‌

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• Science Daily
NCBI (i)