Because diet has a significant impact on prostate health, it stands to reason that dietary choices also have an effect on erectile dysfunction. Although only a few studies have examined the association between diet and erectile dysfunction, the findings have generally indicated that a diet high in saturated fat and red meat and low in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, increases a man’s risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
More specifically, a diet that is rich in antioxidants, which can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, boosts production of nitric oxide and prevents its breakdown. Nitric oxide is a critical factor in erectile function because it stimulates the smooth muscles in the penis, specifically the penile corpus cavernosum.
In addition, eating foods that contain folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E support the pathways that lead to the release of nitric oxide. Another dietary element that can help prevent erectile dysfunction is omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate the release of nitric oxide from the endothelium. (Meldrum) Reducing intake of sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates also reduces the side effects that sugar and fatty acids have on endothelial nitric oxide production, which is critical for erectile function.
Best diet for erectile dysfunction: studies
One of the studies that examined the effects of a healthy lifestyle on erectile dysfunction was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004. Researchers evaluated two groups of obese men who had erectile dysfunction: those who participated in a regimen of a healthy diet and exercise and others who were told to continue their normal behaviors (control group). Over two years, the researchers found that one-third of the men who altered their diet and exercise habits saw improvement in erectile function when compared with men in the control group. The men in the diet and exercise group also saw improvements in body mass index, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and weight. (Esposito 2004)
In a subsequent study by many of the same researchers, the role of the Mediterranean diet on erectile dysfunction was evaluated. One hundred men with erectile dysfunction were compared with 100 men who did not have erectile dysfunction. The researchers then evaluated the men’s adherence to the Mediterranean diet as well as their level of physical activity and allowed for risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, body mass index, waist size, physical inactivity, and total caloric intake.
Overall, the study’s authors found that the intake of fruits and nuts, and the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats were the only individual measures associated with erectile dysfunction. They then concluded that dietary factors may play an important role in the development of erectile dysfunction, and that men who adopt a healthy diet could prevent development of erectile difficulties. (Esposito 2006)
In 2010, the results of a comprehensive literature search of studies concerning dietary factors, the Mediterranean diet, and erectile dysfunction were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The authors noted that “a dietary pattern which is high in fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish but low in red and processed meat and refined grains is more represented in subjects without ED [erectile dysfunction].” Their research led them to conclude that the Mediterranean diet “may be associated with an improvement of erectile dysfunction.” (Esposito 2010)
In yet another study, the Mediterranean diet was found to benefit men with erectile dysfunction, and in this case the participants were men who had type 2 diabetes, a condition that is associated with erectile difficulties. The study involved 555 men who had had type 2 diabetes for at least six months but less than 10 years. All the men completed a food-frequency questionnaire and self-reported on sexual function.
The men’s adherence to a Mediterranean diet was scored from 0 to 9, with higher scores indicating better adherence. The authors found that the men who best followed a Mediterranean diet (scores of 6-9) were less likely to experience erectile dysfunction than men who scored lower. This finding led the researchers to conclude that in men who have type 2 diabetes, those who adhere to a Mediterranean diet are less likely to experience erectile dysfunction. (Giugliano 2010)
Read more in our Erectile Dysfunction Health Center.
Esposito K et al. Effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in obese men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2004 Jun 23; 291(24): 2978-84
Esposito K et al. Dietary factors on erectile dysfunction. International Journal of Impotence Research 2006 Jul-Aug; 18(4): 370-74
Esposito K et al. Dietary factors, Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2010 Jul; 7(7): 2338-45
Giugliano F et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction in men with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2010 May; 7(5): 1911-17