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Erectile dysfunction is a condition that can make it difficult to get or maintain an erection. Following certain diets or eating specific foods may be helpful.
In this article, we look at what foods people can include in their diet to help combat erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition that makes a person unable either to get an erection or to keep it firm enough during sexual intercourse.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, ED affects roughly 30 million males in the United States.
Factors that can increase the chances of developing ED include:
- the natural aging process
- having some health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease
- taking certain medications, including antidepressants and blood pressure drugs
- experiencing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
- consuming too much alcohol
- having overweight or obesity
- being physically inactive
According to 2016 research, the main cause of ED is poor vascular function. As a result, the risk factors for ED are the same as those for cardiovascular disease.
Some sources indicate that ED may be an early indicator of cardiovascular disease.
A healthful diet that includes certain foods may have the potential to improve ED.
According to an older study, cardiovascular disease and ED share underlying mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction. This dysfunction refers to the inability of the blood vessels to relax properly and widen to allow the blood to flow.
There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduces the chance of cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that emphasizes healthful whole foods, including:
- olive oil
- whole grains
Flavonoids are a group of plant compounds called phytonutrients that people can find in fruits and vegetables.
They may be able to improve endothelial function and blood pressure.
A 10-year prospective study of 25,096 males in middle age indicated that those who consumed the most flavonoids had a 9–11% reduced incidence of ED compared with those who consumed the least.
The authors observed that the chance of ED reduced by up to 19% in those who ate the following six flavonoid-rich foods and drinks:
- red wine
- citrus products
Additionally, total fruit intake was associated with reducing risk by up to 14%.
L-arginine is an amino acid that people consume in protein-rich foods.
The body uses it to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a molecule that widens and relaxes blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the penis. Some research suggests that l-arginine levels are lower in males who have ED.
Foods that are good sources of l-arginine include:
- red meat
- dairy products
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a plant in the Brassica family that some people claim helps improve sexual function.
A 2010 review found limited evidence for maca improving ED and concluded that more studies are necessary to establish its effectiveness and ideal dosage.
However, a 2019 study on mice suggested that maca was more effective for sexual function when researchers combined it with Chinese chive seed extract. Combining the two increased the production of nitric oxide.
People can buy maca as a powdered food supplement to sprinkle on cereals or include in smoothies or hot drinks. Maca is also available in capsule form.
Foods that contain higher levels of nitrates include:
- Chinese cabbage
A person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms of ED:
- they can get an erection sometimes, but not every time they want to have sex
- they are not able to maintain an erection during intercourse
- they are unable to get an erection at any time
A doctor is likely to ask the person about their medical and sexual history. They may also examine the person and carry out some tests.
If the doctor diagnoses the person with ED, they can then recommend treatments. They may also advise the person to make certain lifestyle changes that research has shown to be beneficial for sexual function. These may include doing more exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and reaching a moderate weight.
It is also important to see a doctor so that they can rule out any other potential health issues, such as cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure.
Eating certain foods and maintaining a healthful diet may help someone with ED. Doing this can be useful if someone is unable to take medication or finds that their medication is not effective.
A person should see their doctor if they have symptoms of ED. The doctor may also want to discuss any potential coexisting health issues.
People should also check with their doctor before taking any supplements or increasing the intake of certain foods, especially if they are on medication.