Researchers say eating more foods high in flavonoids - such as blueberries and strawberries - can reduce men's risk of erectile dysfunction.
Lead researcher Prof. Aedin Cassidy, from the UK's University of East Anglia (UEA), and colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, publish their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It is estimated that around 30 million men in the US have erectile dysfunction - the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough to engage in sexual intercourse.
Men over the age of 60 are at greatest risk for erectile dysfunction, though it occurs in around 12% of men under this age.
Previous research has shown that regular exercise may lower men's risk for erectile dysfunction. However, in this latest study, Prof. Cassidy and her team suggest that eating more flavonoid-rich foods is as beneficial for erectile dysfunction as walking briskly for up to 5 hours weekly.
"We already knew that intake of certain foods high in flavonoids may reduce the risk of conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease," notes Prof. Cassidy. "This is the first study to look at the association between flavonoids and erectile dysfunction, which affects up to half of all middle-aged and older men."
Exercise, flavonoid-rich diet reduced erectile dysfunction risk by 21%
The researchers analyzed population-based data of more than 50,000 middle-aged men. Information was collected on the men's ability to get and maintain an erection firm enough for intercourse, and dietary data was collected every 4 years from 1986.
- High blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and heart and blood vessel disease are just some conditions that can trigger erectile dysfunction
- Psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression, can also contribute to erectile dysfunction
- Around 30% of men aged 70 and older experience erectile dysfunction.
More than a third of study participants reported new onset erectile dysfunction.
The researchers found that men who consumed foods high in flavonoids - particularly anthocyanins, flavones and flavanones - had a lower risk of erectile dysfunction than men who did not consume such foods.
Anthocyanins are present in blueberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, radishes and blackcurrants, while flavones and flavanones are found in citrus fruits.
"The top sources of anthocyanins, flavones and flavanones consumed in the US are strawberries, blueberries, red wine, apples, pears and citrus products," notes Prof. Cassidy.
Men with a higher total fruit intake were found to have a 14% reduced risk of erectile dysfunction, compared with men with lower total fruit intake, and men who regularly consumed foods rich in anthocyanins, flavones and flavanones had a 10% reduced risk of erectile dysfunction.
"In terms of quantities, we're talking just a few portions a week," says Prof. Cassidy.
What is more, men who combined a flavonoid-rich diet with regular exercise were found to have a 21% reduced risk of erectile dysfunction, compared with men with low flavonoid consumption and low physical activity.
After accounting for potential confounding factors, including physical activity, body weight, caffeine consumption and smoking status, the findings remained.
Overall, the link between a flavonoid-rich diet and reduced risk of erectile dysfunction was stronger for younger men.
There are benefits for heart health, too
While the findings suggest a flavonoid-rich diet could benefit sexual health for middle-aged men, senior author Dr. Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, says such a diet may also benefit the heart:
"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.
Men with erectile dysfunction are likely to be highly motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices, such as exercising more and eating the right foods - which would greatly benefit their long-term cardiovascular health as well."
In May 2015, Medical News Today reported on a study published in PLOS One suggesting that drinking up to three cups of coffee daily could reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction by up to 42%.