Eating Fruit Reduces Erectile Dysfunction Risk

Consumption of fruits like blueberries, cherries, blackberries, black currant and citrus fruits is tied to a reduced risk for erectile dysfunction. Vasily Fedosenko / REUTERS

If you're worried about your twig, better eat some more berries.

A study published December 13 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who ate a lot of fruit had a lower risk of erectile dysfunction. In the study, scientists surveyed 25,000 men over a decade about their dietary habits and whether or not they'd had erectile problems. The paper suggests that those who ate higher levels of fruit had a 14 percent reduced risk of developing the condition, compared to those who ate lower amounts.

The researchers gauged intake of various food chemicals called flavonoids, and found the most benefits in consuming chemicals called anthocyanins and flavanones. The former are found in fruits with dark blue or red colors—such as blueberries, cherries, blackberries, radishes and black currant—and the latter are found in citrus fruits, says study first author Aedin Cassidy, a researcher at the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia.

A diet rich in these food chemicals appears to be linked to a greater reduction in erectile dysfunction risk than physical activity, although they are both important; those in the study who ate higher levels of fruit and regularly exercised had a 21 percent lower chance of developing problems in this department, compared to those who were less active and had worse diets.

"Our data strengthen the knowledge that a healthy diet together with increased physical activity and maintenance of body weight are important for sexual health and in the longer term will prevent" heart disease, Cassidy says.

Erectile dysfunction is often an early barometer of poor vascular health, meaning the health of the heart and the circulatory system. Flavonoids likely help reduce a risk for this condition by generally maintaining cardiovascular health, Cassidy says, so consuming them is important even if you're not concerned about erectile dysfunction specifically.

Research has shown that some flavonoids "improve blood pressure, make our arteries more flexible and help open blood vessels resulting in improved blood flow," Cassidy adds. These chemicals also help control levels nitric oxide, a cell-signaling molecule that helps blood vessels expand and improves blood flow.