Motivating patients to change poor lifestyle habits can be extremely difficult. Preventing cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes is a relatively distant benefit, whereas barbecued ribs, cheesecake, or sitting on our butts promises almost instant gratification. Public health experts are now hoping that prevention or improvement of erectile dysfunction could be a more immediate motivator that physicians can use to improve their patients’ lifestyles and in turn their overall cardiovascular health. That’s how doctors can save a life during a clinic visit for erectile dysfunction. (See Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death).
We used to think of erectile dysfunction in young men in their 20s and 30s as psychogenic in origin, meaning it’s all in their heads. But now we’re realizing it’s more likely an early sign of vascular disease. But even when the penis heads in the wrong direction, the heart need not follow. Atherosclerosis in both organs can be reversed with lifestyle changes. We know that “a substantial body of knowledge demonstrates that the abundant consumption of vegetables, fruit, and whole grain, and the dietary patterns rich in these foods, convey a markedly lower risk of coronary disease.” In a study profiled in my video, 50 Shades of Green, a group of researchers tried putting impotent men on a Mediterranean diet, which includes an abundance of plant-based foods. After two years on the Mediterranean diet, 37% of the men regained normal sexual function. What is it about the diet that appeared to do it? Improvements in erectile function were tied to five things: increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and essentially the ratio of plant fats to animal fats.
Similar benefits were found for women. The same kind of diet significantly improved sexual function, together with a significant reduction of systemic inflammation. As a whole, these findings “suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet may be a safe strategy for amelioration of sexual function” in women with pre-diabetes or diabetes, who found significant improvement in sexual satisfaction on the healthier diet. For more on preventing sexual dysfunction in women in the first place, see Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction. The improvement in sexual functioning is thought to be because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of plant-based diet.
Check out my related video: Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.
Other benefits of increased fiber intake may include improved bowel function (Bristol Stool Scale) and frequency (Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet), lower colorectal cancer risk (Stool Size Matters), lower breast cancer risk (Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen and Fiber vs. Breast Cancer), lower blood pressure (Whole Grains May Work as Well as Drugs), lower blood cholesterol (How Fiber Lowers Cholesterol), weight loss (Beans and the Second Meal Effect) and a longer lifespan (What Women Should Eat to Live Longer).
A similar Mediterranean diet failed to help fibromyalgia in the short term (see Fibromyalgia vs. Mostly Raw & Mostly Vegetarian Diets), but diets that were even more plant-based were found to be beneficial: Fibromyalgia vs. Vegetarian & Raw Vegan Diets.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
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