If you're currently experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED), the first thing to know is that you're not the only one feeling that way or going through this experience; the condition is much more common than you think — in men of all ages.
A 2016 study found that more than one in 10 men between ages 18-24 reported erectile dysfunction. In 2013, a study that looked at over 100,000 Australian men over the age of 45 found that 25 per cent self-reported mild erectile dysfunction, 19 per cent moderate dysfunction and 17 per cent reported complete erectile dysfunction.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, 10 per cent under the age of 35 reported "moderate to severe" erectile dysfunction, while 28 per cent of men aged 55-74 reported the same experience.
"Well, that's nice," you're probably thinking to yourself — "but what can I actually do about it?"
Maybe you've talked to your partner about your sexual health and sexual performance; you've tried the weirdest ED cures out there (we're talking baboon testicles, everyone); and a whole other mess of natural remedies.
But, managing ED might be as simple as heading down to your local grocery store — because yes, a healthy diet can affect erectile dysfunction and may lower ED risk.
Can food really help treat erectile dysfunction?
The first thing to note about erectile dysfunction is that many health conditions where weight is a factor — like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other issues with cardiovascular health — can contribute to ED.
Not only can maintaining a healthy weight assist in the management of these conditions, but it can also help with erectile dysfunction. And, yes, food is a significant factor in this.
In addition, professional medical advice from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners suggests that a healthy diet is a step your GP should recommend in the management of erectile dysfunction.
The best way to tackle the treatment of ED is with a holistic approach. Pilot has a multipronged system for treating ED, which includes medications that have successfully treated over 80 per cent of cases in the last 20 years, as well as ways to improve lifestyle factors like your diet.
And, you don't have to make an appointment with a doctor to access this treatment — you can take the online assessment whenever works for you and our Australian doctors will formulate a personalised plan based on your needs.
So, with this in mind, let's have a look at the specific foods that may help ED.
Best foods for erectile dysfunction
Studies from 1994 to 2020 found the same thing: that eating a diet rich in natural foods — fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish, decreased the likelihood of ED. But these aren't the only options. So, we're here to help you craft a grocery list for treating erectile dysfunction, where every kind of eater is bound to find something they enjoy eating.
From the Mediterranean diet to flavonoid-rich foods, healthy fats to chocolate and more. Don't worry, olive oil isn't going anywhere.
Hopefully, alongside cooking up meals with these erection-friendly ingredients, you can enjoy everything from healthy body weight to healthy blood flow, improved sexual function and sperm quality to increased sexual stimulation, and much more.
Oysters and other shellfish
There's a long-standing myth that oysters cause sexual arousal. Medically reviewed studies are out in that regard, but they do believe oysters can be beneficial to sexual health, including men's sexual health. Both Cleveland Clinic and Penn Medicine report that it's due to the fact oysters are high in the mineral zinc; some research suggests this mineral can "raise testosterone levels and sperm production".
Oyster meat, and other shellfish, contain high amounts of the mineral taurine, and experimental research suggests that "taurine supplementation improves erectile function".
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.
Consuming other types of fish is associated with a lower risk of incident erectile dysfunction, a cohort study found.
Fish are a source of long-chain (n-3) fats, also known as omega-3 and, according to research, omega-3 "should be integrated into any comprehensive approach" when it comes to treating ED. This fatty acid also helps to reduce blood pressure.
Proteins containing L-Arginine
L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps your body build protein. It acts as a vasodilator, helping to dilate (open) blood vessels and improve blood flow. It can be recommended to patients with mild to moderate ED, specifically in the form of arginine supplements.
Research from 2018 found that taking these dietary supplements also caused "significant improvements in overall satisfaction, intercourse satisfaction, orgasmic function" and yes, the function of erections.
If you're looking for protein-rich foods containing L-arginine, look to white meat, soy, whole grains, nuts, beans and dairy products.
A favourite of Australian millennials, avocados — and the vitamins they contain — benefit penile health. Vitamin D, found in large quantities in avocado, has received medical support for being included in the therapeutic treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Vitamin E is also found in high levels in avocado; studies have found when oral vitamin E is combined with ginseng, it can improve erectile function after six weeks. Avocado also contains healthy fats, like monosaturated fats. These types of fats can assist in reducing cholesterol levels — high levels of cholesterol are linked to erectile dysfunction.
Healthy fats can also lower the risk of cardiovascular instances; ED can be a sign or precursor to cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet — hailing from countries bordering the Mediterranean, as the name suggests — is consistently ranked as one of the best ways of eating and a favoured option in the treatment of ED.
The diet itself is based on eating healthy whole foods: vegetables, fruits, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seafood. Instances of dairy and meat are permitted, including yoghurt, cheese, milk, chicken, turkey and eggs.
Multiple studies have found the benefits the Mediterranean diet can have on ED.
One study from 2020 found that those with the greatest adherence to a Mediterranean diet were the least likely in developing ED; another article's literature review suggested that the Mediterranean diet seemed to be one of the "most promising and cost-efficient approaches" to treating ED.
Cocoa, dark chocolate and other flavonoid-rich foods
Wondering what a flavonoid is? It's an antioxidant commonly found in "fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, flowers, tea and wine," as well as caffeine. And low-flavonoid intake, in particular flavone, is associated with ED in young adult men.
You don't have to add a literal tree to your grocery shopping list; it's as simple as (and delicious) as consuming dark chocolate. Flavonoid-rich and full of antioxidants, dark chocolate may help increase blood flow by making arteries more flexible and can lower blood pressure.
When it comes to choosing chocolate, keep in mind that most supermarket chocolates contain a lot of sugar and saturated fats. It's also recommended that you don't exceed 20 to 30 grams of dark chocolate a day, and go for a dark chocolate with more than 80 per cent cacao.
If you increase your dietary flavonoid intake to three portions per week, the likelihood of suffering from ED could be reduced up to 10 per cent.
Another benefit of flavonoid-rich chocolate is that it can assist your body with making nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is found in many ED medications due to the fact it's the "principal-agent responsible for relaxation of penile smooth muscle."
Essentially, you can't achieve or maintain an erection if nitric oxide isn't doing its job properly — so dark chocolate has the potential to positively impact sexual function.
Tomatoes, watermelon, other lycopene-rich fruits
While we're talking about antioxidants, let us introduce lycopene. Lycopene is characterised by its distinctive red colour in fruits and vegetables — like tomatoes, watermelon, and pink guava.
It can play a therapeutic role against metabolic syndromes, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which, as we know, have implications on ED. Tomatoes, and specifically the presence of lycopene in tomatoes, has been found to "contribute directly to increased erectile function" in animal experiments.
Tomatoes have anti-inflammatory properties, and they can increase the availability of nitric oxide (and we've learnt how important that is). The presence of vitamin C doesn't hurt either.
While watermelon and tomatoes can help with erection health, we can't outrightly say that these foods treat erectile dysfunction. A 2011 study 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.
Spinach, lettuce and other nitrate-rich vegetables
Nitrate has a significant impact on health in several areas. Not only does it help improve cardiovascular function — reducing blood pressure — it can also enhance blood flow, and potentially blood flow to the penis.
Found in high concentrations in leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and beetroot, it's easy to add these ingredients to your daily meals. Nitrates that are naturally found in our food also contribute to the generation of nitric oxide — which we've covered benefits of before.
Did you also know nitric oxide can prevent, slow or reverse arterial plaque? Arterial plaque, also known as atherosclerosis, is associated with ED in middle-aged men. Other rich sources of nitrate include radishes, turnips, bok choy, watercress, celery, onion and garlic.
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 their erection health. 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 to 170 mg of caffeine per day were 42 per cent less likely to have dealt with ED. Those who drank 171 to 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.
Is watermelon a natural version of the blue pill?
We're sorry to break it to you, but no — eating a slice of watermelon isn't going to suddenly give you an erection.
This myth seems to stem from a press release dating back to 2008, which claims watermelon has a similar effect to the well known know blue pill — on the body's blood vessels, not the penis.
The news release suggested that the phyto-nutrient, citrulline, which is found in watermelon, boosts nitric oxide in the body and in turn, relaxes the blood vessels much like the blue pill does.
While citrulline has been shown to treat mild to moderate ED, the control group in the citrulline study from 2011 took oral L-citrulline supplementation and saw results — unfortunately, it had nothing to do with watermelon. It's best to rely on clinically-backed treatment methods for ED and stick to eating watermelon in moderation.
What foods should be avoided with erectile dysfunction?
If you're thinking to yourself "Does diet affect erectile dysfunction?" — yes, a poor diet can have a negative impact on ED (and other elements of your health). Just as there are certain foods that help improve ED, other foods could contribute to sexual dysfunction.
To clarify, there are natural sugars found in things like fruit and dairy products, which we should be eating every day. Then there are "added sugars", generally found in processed food — this is the type that should be avoided more with ED.
And like we've been told by everyone from school to doctors to television advertisements, eating excessive amounts of sugar can lead to weight gain.
Harvard Health reports that "a man with a 42-inch waist is 50 per cent more likely to have ED than one with a 32-inch waist." Excessive weight gain increases the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
These types of conditions, we doubt you'll be surprised to discover, are two major causes of ED. Dietary patterns that reduce sugar, and advocate for the consumption of healthier foods, are associated with a reduced risk of ED, while weight loss may potentially lead to improvement in semen quality.
For diabetics, who are at a higher risk of having erectile dysfunction, consuming too much sugar can worsen their symptoms. This includes high blood sugar levels alongside high blood pressure. According to Diabetes UK, having high sugar levels for a period of time can damage blood vessels and nerves — including those supplied to your penis.
The result? The amount of blood flowing to sexual organs — like an erection — is restricted, which in turn means a loss of sexual sensation, and potentially a reduction in sexual performance.
There's nothing like kicking back with a beer (or some scotch or whisky if you're feeling fancy), after a long day. In all honesty, that's pretty standard — and casual or moderate consumption of alcohol isn't actually damaging when it comes to ED.
However, too much alcohol, specifically, increased long-term alcohol intake, is a contributing factor in ED and cardiovascular disease. Excessive alcohol intake has been established as a predictor of ED over five years.
Peer-reviewed studies state that decreasing your alcohol consumption has a host of benefits. A proactive measure against the progression of ED, for one, an improvement in testosterone levels is another.
If you're concerned you'll never be able to order a pint at the pub ever again, you're in luck. Moderate alcohol consumption is fine — up to 10 standards drinks per week.
Fatty foods — high-fat diets, trans fatty acids, saturated fats and high calories — can be a significant contributor to the development, and progression, of ED. As urologist Dr Ulchaker explains to Cleveland Clinic, "High-fat diets can lead to blockages in the coronary arteries."
In turn, this can decrease the size of the arteries that supply blood flow to the penis. In addition to this, the consumption of excess fat interferes with several hormones that may be part of the problem.
In the late '90s, the Massachusetts Male Ageing Study found that participants who ate diets higher in cholesterol and unsaturated fats had a higher prevalence of ED.
More recently, a study from 2020 found that diets that consisted of lower intakes of "unhealthy components" — including trans fatty acids — were associated with a decreased incident ED risk.
Science-based treatments for erectile dysfunction
Yes, food can help treat erectile dysfunction. But it's not something you have to manage entirely on your own.
The Royal Australian College of GPs recommends an integrative approach, with the help of a health professional — like a doctor. This includes everything from talking about your medical history to science-based treatments.
And at Pilot, we have both on hand — doctors and science-based treatments. After being assessed by our doctor, if found suitable, you'll be provided with a personalised treatment plan that caters specifically to you. An easy, quick and discrete process, straight to your door.
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