Natural chemicals found in many plant foods such as citrus fruits, berries, tea and dark chocolate might help men maintain healthy erectile function.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) has a considerable impact on the lives of many middle-aged and older men. There is no one single cause of ED but problems with vascular circulation contribute to the issue.
Obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes are all also strongly linked to ED problems. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of physical activity can go some way to help treat ED in men with pre-existing metabolic disease.
One particular food component found in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a class of plant chemicals called flavonoids.
Flavonoids help give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colours and have many functions in the body, one of which is augmentation of nitric oxide synthesis in the blood vessel walls.
Nitric oxide is of particular interest in ED as it can dilate blood vessels. The popular ED drug Viagra enhances nitric oxide dilation.
Researchers looked at the link between flavonoids and ED. They analysed the health and diet of over 25,000 middle aged and older men who were part of the long-running Health Professionals Follow-Up Study that started in 1986.
The researchers compared the men’s self-reported ability to have and maintain an erection to the amounts of flavonoid-rich foods in their diet.
Men who regularly consumed foods high in flavonoids were 10 percent less likely to report ED problems. When flavonoid-rich foods were combined with exercise, the risk of ED fell by 21 percent.
The study found that three specific flavonoids (called anthocyanins, flavanones and flavones) were linked with the greatest benefits in preventing ED. Anthocyanins are high in blueberries, cherries, blackberries, radishes and red wine. Flavanones and flavones are found in citrus fruits.
Importantly, the study only found an association between flavonoid consumption and ED so it cannot prove the two are related. The study did though make allowances for a range of factors that could influence the results such as the presence of disease, physical activity levels, obesity and smoking status.
Eating a healthy diet is already known to be a positive lifestyle change for men with ED to make. This research points for men to have a greater focus on eating more particular types of flavonoid-rich foods in the fruit and vegetable group.
Cassidy A et al. Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Epub online Jan 13, 2016. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122010.