Diet for Erectile Issues
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a dysfunction characterised by the inability to develop or maintain an erection of the penis. In other words, having a penis that is too soft when it needs to be hard.
These are the three main causes of erectile dysfunction:
1. Hormonal Imbalances
Caused by excess oestrogen and too little male sex hormone (testosterone) in the body.
Male sex hormones are most commonly reduced by an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle characterised by fast food diets, alcohol, excessive weight, smoking, too little exercise and nutrient deficiency. This tendency gets aggravated as men age and sex hormone levels decline naturally.
2. Psychological Problems
There are three sub-types of psychological causes for erectile dysfunction
– Anxiety/stress: often caused by over-expectation
– Boredom: caused by natural lack of libido or low testosterone
– Addiction to internet pornography: expectations can become unrealistic
3. Cardiovascular Complications
Circulatory problems are the single most common cause of impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED). Amongst a host of other problems, poor circulation results in the inability to flood the penis with blood via a process called vasodilation.
Nitric oxide in the body is responsible for vasodilation and is the basis for the discovery of the famous ‘blue pill’ for erectile dysfunction.
It is important to know that impotence may be an early warning sign of potentially dangerous cardiovascular disease and should therefore be professionally diagnosed and treated. Some anti-depressants, beta-blockers and anticonvulsants (anti-epileptic drugs) are also known to adversely affect erectile function, so talk to your doctor if you are taking any of these medicines and have ED.
The most effective natural erectile dysfunction treatment is to raise the male sex hormone (testosterone) level and improve nitric oxide levels and cardiovascular function.
To do this a man should eat unprocessed clean foods, exercise and sleep well. Quality of sleep is important, because most of the sex hormones get released during sleeping hours. Reducing stress and alcohol consumption will improve sleep because the body does not have to work during the night to break down alcohol and instead…rest deeply.
A combination of weight training and aerobic exercise will benefit, particularly if you are unfit, overweight or aging.
Weight training builds testosterone levels – yet not to the point of bulking up like an incredible hulk. It’s about toning your muscles, particularly the muscles in your pelvic floor. Yoga, pilates, power walking, pelvic contractions, weights and resistance exercises can all help.
Because poor circulation is the most common underlying cause of impotence, regular aerobic exercise will improve blood flow and cardiovascular function. But first, speak to your doctor and get your heart health checked.
There are also two main ‘off the shelf’ ED treatments that can help men overcome potency problems.
The first is the famous blue pill, which biomechanically is achieved by helping the body to trap blood in the penis. But this treatment does not represent a sustainable solution because it does not treat what caused the ED in the first place.
The other treatment is to use natural nitric oxide boosters. These treat poor circulation naturally and usually without side effects. These are available in various herbal and vitamin supplements.
Dietary aspects to improve testosterone and nitric oxide levels follow.
Most men are familiar with not being able to get or maintain an erection after a night of drinking alcohol…if they remember. But even regular small amounts of alcohol can impact your vascular system (the blood supply to the penis) and your ability to have good erectile function.
Apart from killing off too many people prematurely, cigarettes are also libido killers. Smoking affects the vascular system and clogs and hardens the arteries. It’s a good idea to stop smoking if you have ED – and also a good idea to help protect your heart and lungs. Talk to your practitioner about support for this addiction.
Too many carbohydrates create bloating and digestion problems which consequently puts pressure on the vascular system. In fact, eating far too much of anything does the same thing.
Any food or drink that contains sugar (particularly alcoholic drinks) can affect erectile dysfunction. Sugar will make your blood stickier with less flow and can also clog the arteries. This is a reason why diabetics can have trouble with erectile function, because their blood sugar can be too high and the blood gets sticky which slows the flow.
Processed foods and bad fats
Processed foods with bad fats (trans fats and hydrogenated fats) can clog the arteries and slow down blood flow. The same occurs with any unhealthy food.
Unless fermented, like miso or tempeh, soy products should be avoided by men as soy has phytoestrogens that can upset the delicate balance of hormones such as testosterone.
Plastics and cans
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic products and the linings of canned foods. While tomatoes are good for men’s sexual health and the prostate, tomatoes stored in cans have high levels of BPA from the can linings. BPA is known to inhibit sex hormones as well as affect male fertility. Avoid tomatoes and other foods stored in plastic lined cans.
You can also find BPA in most plastic water bottles and plastic containers. To store water and food, look for products labelled ‘BPA-Free’ or use glass containers. Do not cook or microwave your foods in plastic containers or wash them in the dishwasher because the heat can release chemicals out of the products.
Other hormone disruptors can be found in pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other environmental contaminants, so choose organic products where possible to reduce your exposure.
Now for some good news…
Foods that are good for your vascular system, such as the vasodilating foods that open blood vessels and increase blood flow, contain Arginine. Arginine is an amino acid from certain protein foods which help to relax and dilate blood vessels. Also, certain nutrients like anti-oxidants, zinc and the good oils may help prevent and support those with ED.
Following are supportive foods for healthy erectile function…
Arginine is commonly used as a supplement to help erectile dysfunction and support heart disease and angina, bodybuilding, healing wounds, and to repair tissue.
Whilst arginine can help these conditions, taking it as a supplement may have side effects such as an upset stomach and diarrhoea and can also carry risks for people who take other medications or have certain health conditions.
The good news is that arginine from your food is safe and you only need around 6 grams per day for a therapeutic dose. Because arginine can also be made by other amino acids, general high-protein foods can help to increase arginine levels.
Here’s a list of arginine rich foods…
- Turkey: You’ll find the richest amounts of arginine in turkey. One cooked breast has 16 grams of arginine
- Pork Loin: Pork loin has an impressive arginine content of 14 grams per rib
- Chicken: Chicken is the third-best source of arginine. One chicken breast has almost 9 grams of arginine.
- Pumpkin Seeds: One cup of pumpkin seeds has almost 7 grams of arginine, plus loads of zinc which is also helpful for erectile dysfunction.
- Peanuts: A cup of peanuts contains 4.6 grams of arginine, although don’t eat a cupful in one sitting because the nuts are very high in fat.
- Other good sources of arginine, but not as high as the above, are walnuts, chick-peas, lentils, spirulina and pistachio nuts.
Leafy green vegetables like kale, celery and spinach, can increase circulation because of their high concentration of nitrates. Beet/beetroots are very high in nitrates.
Zinc to the rescue. The oyster has a reputation as an aphrodisiac and one of the reasons is that oysters have high levels of the mineral zinc, a nutrient that plays an important role in the production of testosterone. Zinc is also found in other seafood as well as pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
Lycopene found in fresh tomatoes and pink/ruby grapefruit, is another phytonutrient that is good for circulation and sexual imbalances as well as good support for your prostate.
Omega 3’s to boost nitric acid. Salmon and other fatty fish are great sources of the omega-3 fats, which can boost nitric oxide and improve blood flow. Add some spice such as chillies and other peppers which relax the arteries and help blood flow and you will have a fiery mix to get your blood pumping. Chilli tuna from a can is also yummy and easy (check the can is not lined with BPA).
Anti-oxidants are a great support for the vascular system in general, so the addition of anti-oxidant rich fruits like berries is a great adjunctive support for ED.
Good oils such as avocadoes, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil and coconut oil are easy to use and are good testosterone boosters to help prevent and support those with ED.
As mentioned earlier, it’s very important to avoid things that can affect your vascular blood flow such as alcohol, sugar, processed foods and deep fried foods.
There’s another aspect to help the blood and energy flow to the ‘right head’ (so to speak). Drop the stress, chillax and simply be present without any expectations. In other words, less thinking and more feeling.
While a diet to support healthy erectile function is not a cure, the idea is to eliminate foods considered detrimental, and include supportive nutritious foods. That way, along with a sensible exercise program, your body can heal and revitalise naturally.
Important: Before you commence a new diet and exercise plan, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. Also do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Damien, who was about 45 years old, first came to see me for weight issues and he suspected an underactive thyroid, which on testing, showed he had a sub-clinical underactive thyroid. Sub-clinical means that thyroid levels are on the border of needing drugs, but not to the level that a doctor would medicate.
Damien was exercising a little by walking but couldn’t do much more as his energy was so poor. He was stressed with what he called his ‘home life’. At that point I wasn’t aware that the home stress was due to his erectile issues.
We started a program for his thyroid which included foods high in selenium, zinc, B vitamins, anti-oxidants, tyrosine and iodine. I also asked him to remove foods that were not good for his thyroid such as gluten foods, dairy products, sugar and alcohol.
After a few weeks on the thyroid diet he said he had lots more energy, was losing the extra weight and had started weight training at a gym. His thyroid markers in the follow-up blood tests had also improved.
It was then he mentioned that his erectile dysfunction was getting better but wished to improve it further.
I told him that a lot of what he had been doing with his diet and exercise for his thyroid would have helped him to regain erectile function, but he could boost it further by including some different food types.
He added chilli to his fish meals and replaced chicken meals with turkey and pork dishes. He was already eating pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for his zinc, but also added oysters. He chose to eat smoked oysters which I said wouldn’t be a healthy option long-term due to the unhealthy smoke ingredients, but he said he couldn’t eat them raw.
I gave him some cooked recipe versions that he used which really boosted his zinc levels that were previously unresponsive. This was probably because he only ate a few pepita seeds a day.
After an additional month on the adjusted diet, he emailed me to say that he didn’t think he needed a follow up appointment as all was going well with the ‘old fella’ (what a strange name for a penis) and his weight was better than ever. His actual kilo/pounds weight was higher but it was all muscle now instead of flab.