These Foods Help Not Only Your Heart, But Also Your Sex Life

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Foods for a Long Life & Love Life

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.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

12 responses to “Foods for a Long Life & Love Life

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  1. Hi Dr. Greger,
    My husband is 55 and has had erectile dysfunction for about fifteen years. However, he is fit and trim, plays soccer, and we follow a near-vegan diet. (I’m totally vegan and he’s close and has been for years.) So I’m alarmed about this heart-penis connection and am hoping there might be other reasons for his erectile dysfunction (hee hee, just realized it would be easy for someone to insert a joke here.) But seriously, might there be other causes? Thank you and I LOVE your blog.

    1. There are theories that male circumcision can also play a role. If he was circumcised I would research that aspect. I do not believe there is any solid science on it though, as this country loves to cut babies and doesn’t want to stop.

  2. Although there is often an atherosclerosis connection with ED, it does not follow that it is the cause in every case. I suggest you have a look at

    Early onset erectile dysfunction is usually not associated with
    abnormal cavernosal arterial Inflow
    International Journal of Impotence Research (2013) 25, 217–220

    This is an extract from the conclusions in the paper:
    “The observation that venous leakage may be the major cause of
    ED in both young and old men begs the question as to why this
    occurs. Our theory is that this decrease in the smooth muscle
    content that leads to venous leakage is simply an aging-related
    issue, which will ultimately occur in every man if they live long
    enough. However, the initiation of the decrease and the rapidity
    to which this decrease in corporal smooth muscle content occurs
    is most likely genetically predetermined for each individual. From
    both animal and human studies, it has been suggested that it only
    takes about a 15% decrease in the function of the smooth muscle
    content within the corpora before clinically significant venous
    leakage occurs. As an erection is a dynamic balance between
    arterial inflow and venous outflow, the individual with perfect
    arterial inflow will only become symptomatic from venous
    leakage if and when the content of the corporal smooth muscle
    reaches that 15% decline. On the other hand, the individual
    who develops a risk factor for arterial disease, for example,
    diabetes mellitus or hypertension, where there may now be a
    diminution in arterial inflow, the onset of clinically symptomatic
    venous leakage that is, the inability to maintain an erection, may
    occur earlier than before that 15% decrease in corporal smooth
    content is reached. This may be one of a possible number of
    reasons why men with certain risk factors for arterial disease, such
    as diabetes may develop symptomatic ED earlier than age-
    matched controls.”

    1. This study seems not quite ready for prime-time. It had the potential to be a very interesting study. But, even the study’s authors seem to have reservations…

      “Potential limitations of our results are due to the fact that the survey was based on cross-sectional data. Therefore, no statements can be made whether the poorer health in vegetarians in our study is caused by their dietary habit or if they consume this form of diet due to their poorer health status. We cannot state whether a causal
      relationship exists, but describe ascertained associations. Moreover, we cannot give any information regarding the long-term consequences of consuming a special diet nor concerning mortality rates. Thus, further longitudinal studies will be required to substantiate our results. Further limitations include the measurement of dietary habits as a self-reported variable and the fact that
      subjects were asked how they would describe their eating behavior, without giving them a clear definition of the various dietary habit groups. However, a significant association between the dietary habit of individuals and their weight and drinking behavior is indicative for the validity of the variable. Another limitation concerns the lack of detailed information regarding nutritional components (e.g. the amount of carbohydrates, cholesterol, or fatty acids consumed).”

    2. The problem with this sort of case control study is that many people adopt health oriented veg*n diets after their cancer or CVD (etc) diagnosis. To really get at the health effects one must look at prospective studies that examine initially healthy cohorts. And there, the evidence is pretty much all in favor of a whole plant food based diet:
      Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports (2011)
      Cardiovascular disease mortality and cancer incidence in vegetarians a meta-analysis and systematic review (2012)
      Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2 (2013)
      Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population (2013)
      Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians – results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study (2013)

      These studies often underestimate the benefits, as they statistically adjust for risk factors like BMI that mediate some of the benefits of plant-based diets.

      That’s not to say there isn’t a higher incidence of eating disorders and mental illness among those who choose a presently unusual diet. However, the evidence suggests that these disorders precede the adoption of vegetarian diets:

      Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey (2012)

      The population of vegans (not vegetarians – there are many issues with dairy and eggs) small, still smaller is the population of health-oriented ones, and the population of those who’ve practiced a whole plant foods based diet for a substantial fraction of their life is miniscule. Hopefully sites like NutritionFacts will help get out the word so that future prospective studies will show benefits in line with or even better than those seen in the Blue Zones.

  3. [posting in a new location, not sure where this belongs among topics] I have been able to find studies of Chloroform extract of Papaya Seed being used as a MALE CONTRACEPTIVE conducted on animals but was intrigued to know if there were any further studies that have been conducted on actual humans. A male contraceptive with no adverse side effects derived from a Whole food, what a concept!!

  4. Are there any videos or posts about meal frequency? I generally try to eat 3 meals a day but sometimes I eat 4. What does Dr. Greger recommend? Most doctors I’ve talked to recommend 3.

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