Is red wine a secret treatment for erectile dysfunction? Read this before pouring a glass

A study from Harvard found seems to think so.

Written by
Stephanie Anderson
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
June 6, 2022
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By now, it's no secret that enjoying a glass of red wine — in moderation, of course — is linked to several health benefits.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that "the alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks".

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a nice glass of red at the end of a long week, but what about drinking red wine for erectile dysfunction? Is that a thing?

As it turns out, one 2016 study from Harvard seems to think red wine can actually help treat erectile dysfunction.

In this article, we'll break down exactly what the findings of that study were, the pros and cons of trying to treat erectile dysfunction with red wine, and what else you can do to treat ED.

Is red wine a liquid version of the blue pill?

We've all heard of whiskey dick, also known as alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction. So, is red wine any different?

According to a 2016 study conducted by Harvard University and the University of East Anglia and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the answer is yes.

So what's the deal with this study? Well, it took place over a 40-year period and consisted of over 50,000 healthy, middle-aged, male participants, and found that men who enjoyed a regular glass of red wine — as well as some citrus fruits and berries — were nine to 11 per cent less likely to go on to develop erectile dysfunction.

Calling the results "statistically significant", they determined that consuming a diet rich in the flavonoids found in red wine and some fruits was as effective for helping maintain erectile function as up to five hours of brisk walking each week.

It's not so much the red wine itself that helps reduce the risk of developing erectile dysfunction, but rather, it's the flavonoids found within red wine, specifically anthocyanins, flavones and flavanones.

Of course, as fun as it might sound to replace your workouts with wine, red wine is sadly no replacement for leading a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical exercise and a healthy, balanced diet.

"Our data strengthen the knowledge that a healthy diet, specifically one rich in several flavonoids, together with increased physical activity and maintenance of body weight are important components of health to improve sexual health and CVD risk factor reduction," states the study.

In fact, when comparing the study participants who engaged with regular exercise compared to those who didn't, the study found that "individuals who consumed a high intake of anthocyanins and flavanones and who were physically active had a 21 per cent lower risk of ED compared with those consuming a low intake of anthocyanins and flavanones and low physical activity levels".

“We already knew that intake of certain foods high in flavonoids may reduce the risk of conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Professor Aedin Cassidy, the study's lead researcher.

What are flavonoids, and can they help with erectile dysfunction?

Let's talk flavonoids. What are they, and why are they good for us?

“Flavonoids are present in many plant-based foods and drinks including fruits, vegetables, tea, herbs and wine," said UEA Professor Aedin Cassidy in a press release when the study was released.

"We examined six main types of commonly consumed flavonoids and found that three in particular — anthocyanins, flavanones and flavones — are beneficial," he explained.

"Men who regularly consumed foods high in these flavonoids were 10 per cent less likely to suffer erectile dysfunction. In terms of quantities, we’re talking just a few portions a week.”

A flavonoid-rich diet has been found to help heart health. Science Direct reports that "flavonoids have strong antioxidant properties and so can reduce oxidative stress related to cardiovascular disease".

As it turns out, what's good for the heart is good for the erection.

"Erectile dysfunction is often an early barometer of poor vascular function and offers a critical opportunity to intervene and prevent cardiovascular disease, heart attack and even death," explained Dr Eric Rimm, one of the study's researchers in a press release.

“We already knew that intake of certain foods high in flavonoids may reduce the risk of conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease," added Professor Aedin Cassidy.

“We examined six main types of commonly consumed flavonoids and found that three in particular – anthocyanins, flavanones and flavones – are beneficial.”

So what foods contain flavonoids? Aside from red wine, foods rich in flavonoids include:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Blueberries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Red cabbage
  • Onions
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Tea
  • Dark chocolate
  • Soybeans

The strengths and weaknesses of the study

The connection between alcohol and erectile dysfunction is a controversial one. The results of this study are promising, but how accurate is it really?

One major strength of the study is the large number of participants; this wasn't just a couple of people who took part, but rather, over 50,000.

Another strength is the length of the study; rather than looking at short-term effects, this study was able to provide results based on decades of information.

It also removed participants whose lifestyles or health conditions could have skewed the data within the scope of the study, like smokers, people who were overweight or those who drank heavily.

On the other hand, there are limitations to any study, and this one is no exception.

For example, the British Heart Foundation reports that it can be "difficult to accurately measure the flavonoid intake partly because it can vary according to growing conditions and manufacturing methods".

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the BHF, explained that "although this study links a higher intake of flavonoids with a lower likelihood of developing erectile dysfunction, this type of research can only show an association, not cause and effect".

She concluded: "We can’t say that eating more flavonoids will resolve the problem in those that have it already, or why this link was observed."

The issue with treating erectile dysfunction with your favourite tipple

Can you treat erectile dysfunction with your favourite tipple? For the most part, not really.

Although red wine and flavonoid-rich foods like berries and citrus fruits can help prevent the onset of ED, there are plenty of other alcoholic beverages that won't help you get or keep your erections at all.

In fact, Everyday Health reports that "researchers have found that too much alcohol affects both your brain and your penis".

They explain: "In one University of Washington study, sober men were able to achieve an erection more quickly than intoxicated men — and some men are unable to have an erection at all after drinking."

Heavy drinking is directly connected to problems with sexual dysfunction.

In one study that looked at the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in alcoholic men, "72 per cent had one or more sexual dysfunction, the most common being premature ejaculation, low sexual desire and erectile dysfunction".

This study found that "the amount of alcohol consumed appeared to be the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction".

The good news is, there are plenty of ways to treat erectile dysfunction without wine and booze.

Treating erectile dysfunction without wine

When it comes to getting your erectile function back on track, a healthy lifestyle can make all the difference.

Things like 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep and engaging with meditation, mindfulness and other stress-relieving techniques can all be a game-changer.

Not only will these improve your overall health and fitness, but they can help you to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction or improve your sexual performance.

Erectile dysfunction can be rooted in both physical and psychological factors — or a combination of the two — so it's always best to seek out professional medical advice for a proper diagnosis.

At Pilot, we offer ED treatment plans that are tailored to you.

We get that a lot of men don't want to talk about their issues with ED, despite it being something that so many of us deal with at some point in our lives.

That's why we created a system where you can get the treatment you need, from the comfort of your own home.

Here's how it works. First, you take our online assessment quiz, which will ask you questions about your lifestyle, your medications and your medical history, and a little about how ED is affecting your life.

From there, one of our Australian doctors will review your answers, looking for any potential underlying medical conditions or diseases that need to be treated. If they need any more info, they'll come back to you for clarification.

If they believe you're a good fit for our ED treatments, they'll prescribe you medications that have been successful in over 80 per cent of cases in the last 20 years. We'd love to tell you more about that, but it's against Australian law until after you've had a consult with a doctor.

If the idea of going to the chemist to pick up meds for your sex life makes you feel uncomfortable, we've got your back. With Pilot, we send the medications directly to you, in discreet packaging.

After that, you'll be able to access ongoing support from your prescribing doctor and the Pilot medical team, who'll be there to make sure everything's working well and that your sex life is back on track.

Get started today.

Photo Credit: HBO

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