By Dr. Mercola
Many men have trouble discussing problems they may have with erectile dysfunction. But, while you may find it embarrassing, it can also be a signal of other underlying health related conditions, such as heart disease.
The physical function of an erection occurs between a complex interaction of nerves, muscle, emotions, hormones, brain and blood supply. When the arteries undergo changes related to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, it is more difficult for the blood to pass through.
The process plays out first in the smaller arteries of the penis, before it reaches the larger arteries supplying the heart, kidneys and brain.
Researchers from Harvard University released the results of a two-decade-long study that suggested men who habitually ate foods rich in flavonoids three times a week had a reduced incidence of erectile dysfunction as they aged.1
At the start of the study none of the men suffered from erectile dysfunction (ED), but by the end of the 20 years 35.6 percent reported problems with ED.
The researchers controlled for the differences in physical activity, alcohol intake, diabetes and other physical factors that are known to affect the development and progression of ED in the over 25,000 men who participated in the study.
They found that in men younger than 70, there was an 11 to 16 percent lower risk if the men ate several types of food rich in flavonoids per week.2
How Flavonoids Work
Flavonoids are synthesized by plants. They are antioxidants that have a significant effect on the scavenging of free radicals in the body, reducing the negative effect on DNA and disease risk.
Although they are an antioxidant, it appears that many of their benefits results from their ability to modulate cell-signaling pathways.
These flavonoids may have an effect on chronic disease by selectively inhibiting kinases, regulators of cell function and cell cycles, and reducing the inflammatory and adhesion response of the cells.3,4 All these functions help to reduce the potential risk of atherosclerosis in the arteries.
Strong research evidence suggests that consumption of flavonoids will help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, vascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases.5 The early signs of these conditions may result in ED.
Foods With Flavonoids
Not all fruits and vegetables are created equally. Those that have higher amounts of flavonoids, and thus reduce your risk factors associated with erectile dysfunction, include:6
Apples, gala Cranberries Bananas Nectarines Peaches Blueberries Cherries Strawberries Blackberries Grapefruits Plums Raspberries Tea
Factors Affecting Erectile Dysfunction
There are several factors that affect ED. Interestingly, many of them are affected by your exercise habits, diet and stress.7
Psychological factors can also affect erectile function. These include:8,9,10
Vascular Conditions Alcohol Medications Diabetes Abnormal Nerve Function Hormone deficiency Surgical Procedures Recreational Drugs Diet High Blood Pressure Heart Disease Fatigue
Performance Anxiety Depression Stress Relationship Problems Guilt Low Self-Esteem
Viagra Is Not the Answer
If you experience ED, it's important you have your specific situation evaluated. It may be an early sign you are experiencing arterial changes that may affect your heart and potential risk for stroke or heart attack.
If psychological factors are impeding your physical relationship, it can become a vicious cycle. ED may be triggered by stress or depression, which triggers relationships problems that leads to further stress or relationship problems.
Like other health conditions, it's important to get to the bottom of the problem and not throw pills at the issue. You may need medications to control your health conditions, but you will also need diet changes and stress reduction to fully address your challenges.
One of the medications to treat ED that gained national notoriety was Viagra. Billed as the miracle pill that would allow men to once again feel younger and stronger, sales of the little blue pill have reached 35 million men worldwide, according to manufacturer Pfizer.11
But, once the excitement wore off, sales began dropping. Revenue dropped from a little over $2 million in 2012 to $1.6 million in 2014.12
This may have been the result of the average cost of $22 per pill, risk of significant side effects or the recognition that although men were having sex, it didn't fix their relationship problems.
Now men who use Viagra face more health risks. According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), taking Viagra is associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma.13
Men who take Viagra have an 84 percent greater risk of developing the deadliest form of skin cancer (melanoma) over those men who have never taken the ED medication.
Don't be tempted by the prices of Viagra and other ED medications sold online. According to Forbes Magazine and the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine, 77 percent of the Viagra sold online from 22 different sites was fake, and potentially dangerous.14
Fake Viagra is potentially high in heavy metals, holds an increased risk of fungal and bacterial infections when the medication is manufactured in unsanitary conditions and confiscated Viagra has contained printer ink, drywall dust, amphetamines and the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl).15
More Benefits of Flavonoids
The benefits of eating a healthy diet, full of flavonoid rich fruits, vegetables and tea, go beyond helping your vascular system, heart, and erectile functioning. Unlike pharmaceutical approaches to your health that seek to address one issue, a holistic approach will address your whole body.
Drinking tea, naturally high in flavonoids, has been linked with higher bone density and a lower risk of osteoporotic fractures.16,17 Drinking three or more cups of flavonoid- rich tea appeared to have the most benefits for bone density.
Flavonoids also block the messages that promote inflammation through blocking cyclo-oxygenase and lipoxygenase enzymes in the body.18 The suppression of inflammatory signals reduces the potential risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
Increasing the consumption of foods rich in flavonoids can improve cognitive function. A growing number of flavonoids have been shown to reduce Alzheimer-type pathology in the brain and increase cognitive function through increased blood flow and neurogenesis in the hippocampus, the area of the brain significantly affected by dementia.19,20 Other studies have found that flavonoids protect against other types of cognitive declines seen with aging.21
Natural Viagra Alternatives
Increasing your consumption of flavonoids in your diet is a long-term plan to improve your blood supply and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. There are some natural alternatives to Viagra that don't come with the side effects of the pharmaceutical drug.
Nitric oxide is a molecule your body produces that signals smooth muscle cells to relax, increasing blood flow and reducing the production of plaque in the arteries. L-arginine can improve microcirculation in your genitals that can result in stronger erections and better sexual responsiveness, but without the side effects of Viagra and other ED drugs.
Research studies demonstrate that L-arginine is more effective when combined with pycnogenol, resulting in significant improvement of sexual functioning22 Another pilot study found using an on-demand oral administration of 6 grams of L-arginine combined with 6 mg of yohimbine, improved the sexual functioning of men diagnosed with mild to moderate ED.23
Your Healthy Sex Life Is Linked to Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Your bodily functions, including your sexual health, is all interrelated and interconnected. You can't separate sexual health from your overall health. The choices you make about your lifestyle affect your sexual health, and your physical intimacy benefits your physical and emotional health.
If your sex life inside your committed relationship is not fulfilling, and stress or the relationship is not the problem, it may be time to evaluate the remainder of your lifestyle choices. Use these strategies to naturally boost your libido:
- Eliminate SugarSugars are found in sweets, processed foods, sodas, alcohol, and any foods containing high numbers of carbohydrates. All carbohydrates will metabolize to sugar in your body and sugar may turn off the hormones that control your sexual desire.
- Normalize Insulin LevelsMy nutrition plan is designed to help normalize your insulin levels and reduce the effects of sugar on your cells and body. Making the right dietary choices will increase your energy levels, reduce your risk for disease and improve your sex life.
- Optimize Vitamin D LevelsVitamin D sulfate, a product of your body's manufacture of vitamin D from sunlight, may be critical in prevention of the formation of arterial plaque. Arterial plaque will reduce blood flow to your genitals and increase your risk of ED. Your best method of getting vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight.
- ExerciseRegular exercise improves your mood, your muscle control, balance, coordination and body image. Using high intensity interval training (HIIT) will also naturally increase your growth hormone and testosterone. These hormones are essential to your sex drive and responsiveness, whether male or female.
- Eliminate Smoking and Avoid AlcoholSmoking temporarily increases your blood pressure and deposits multiple different toxins in your body. Both factors are related to the health of your arteries and therefore your sexual functioning. Alcohol is high in carbohydrates that metabolize to sugar and reduce your sexual drive and responsiveness.
- Quality SleepHigh-quality, restorative sleep is necessary to the function of your brain, cognitive abilities, creativeness and sexual drive and responsiveness.