Researchers have found a connection between a flavonoid-rich diet and reduced risk of erectile dysfunction (ED).
The study, published in January in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, identified three particular flavonoids – anthocyanins, flavanones, and flavones – as the most beneficial.
Flavonoids are plant chemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Classified as antioxidants, they have anti-inflammatory properties and contribute to immune system health.
Flavonoid-rich foods include citrus fruits, blueberries, strawberries, apples, pears, cherries, blackberries, radishes, and blackcurrant. Some teas, herbs, and wine contain flavonoids as well.
Past research has shown a link between higher consumption of flavonoids and reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which are associated with ED. However, no studies had investigated flavonoids and ED directly.
Scientists from the University of East Anglia and Harvard University examined data from 25,096 men between the ages of 40 and 75 who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Every four years starting in 1986, the men provided information about their dietary intake. In 2000, 2004, and 2008, the men answered questions about their erectile function.
At baseline in 1998, none of the men had ED or cardiovascular disease. In addition, none had received a diagnosis of prostate, bladder, or testicular cancer.
About 36% of the men reported ED during a ten-year follow-up period. However, those who ate foods high in flavonoids – especially anthocyanins, flavanones, and flavones – were less likely to develop the condition.
Overall, men who ate high quantities of flavonoids saw a 14% reduction in ED risk.
“In terms of quantities, we’re talking just a few portions a week,” said lead researcher Aedín Cassidy of the University of East Anglia in a press release.
Men younger than age 70 and those who exercised appeared to reap the most benefits.
It’s possible that flavonoids contribute to healthy blood vessels, which are good for erections, the authors noted.
Critics of the study have highlighted several notable limitations, including a lack of baseline rates of erectile function, minimal information on duration of treatment, and inappropriate measures for erectile function. Additionally, as this was an observational study, it is not possible to determine if the benefits were due specifically to the increased consumption of flavonoids. Overall, results also showed that there were no differences between men when considering flavonoids in general. Differences occurred only when flavonoids were sub-stratified into specific subgroups, suggesting that the overall benefit is likely small, if present.
In the press statement, senior author Dr. Eric Rimm of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health remarked, “As well as improving sexual health for middle-aged men, there is another important benefit linked to heart health. 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.”
Dr. Rimm added, “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.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Cassidy, Aedín, et al.
“Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction”
(Full-text. January 13, 2016)
HealthDay via The Chicago Tribune
“Can berries, citrus help prevent impotence?”
(January 18, 2016)
“What Are Flavonoids?”
(October 20, 2015)
University of East Anglia
“Blueberries associated with reduced risk of erectile dysfunction”
(Press release. January 13, 2016)