Mediterranean Diet Tied to Less Severe Erectile Dysfunction

Marlene Busko

September 07, 2021

In an observational study of 250 middle-aged men with hypertension and erectile dysfunction, those whose eating patterns more closely matched a Mediterranean diet had significantly higher testosterone levels, better exercise capacity, and better erectile performance than their peers.

In addition, more closely following a Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil, with modest consumption of dairy products and limited red meat — was associated with better coronary blood flow and less arterial stiffness, all after adjusting for age, body mass index, type 2 diabetes, statin use, and smoking.

Athanasios Angelis, MD, First Cardiology Clinic, Hippokration Hospital, School of Medicine, University of Athens, Greece, presented the study at the recent European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2021.

"While we did not examine mechanisms," Angelis said in a press release from the ESC, "it seems plausible that this dietary pattern may improve fitness and erectile performance by enhancing function of the blood vessels and limiting the fall in testosterone that occurs in midlife."

"The findings suggest that the Mediterranean diet could play a role in maintaining several parameters of vascular health and quality of life and in middle-aged men with hypertension and erectile dysfunction," he concluded.

"A Mediterranean diet may help erectile dysfunction by improving endothelial physiology," Angelis told | Medscape Cardiology. "We suggest the Mediterranean diet as a basic parameter of hypertension and erectile dysfunction treatment. We advise all our patients to be careful regarding salt consumption and to try to exercise regularly."

"Depending on the severity of the erectile dysfunction, we may suggest only lifestyle changes (eg, quit smoking), at least for the beginning, or combination with medication," consisting of phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors such as Viagra.

A 'First-Choice' Diet for Men With ED, Low T, High CVD Risk?

This research "adds to the growing evidence that a Mediterranean diet is protective against erectile dysfunction," said Joseph Whittaker, MSc, a clinical nutritionist from the University of Worcester, UK, and coauthor of a related meta-analysis about dietary fat and testosterone.

This way of eating "also improves cardiovascular health, so it could become a low-risk, first choice treatment for these three pathologies (low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, increased risk of CVD), which so commonly coexist," he told | Medscape Cardiology in an email.

"However, most of the research to date is observational," he cautioned, which often has a "healthy user bias," that is, the men eating a Mediterranean diet are probably health-conscious individuals, with other healthy habits such as exercise, good sleep, low stress, etc. "So, was it the diet, the healthy habits, or both?"

Randomized studies are needed to replicate the positive results of observational studies like this one, Whittaker added. In the meantime, "a Mediterranean diet will probably improve your health anyway," he noted, "so trying it for the purposes of erectile function (before starting drugs) is a viable option."

Previous research has shown that dietary fat and olive oil may boost testosterone levels, Whittaker noted, and nuts have also been shown to improve erectile function.

"So, the increase in healthy fats — mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs, respectively) — on the Mediterranean diet is probably responsible for these benefits," he speculated.

Middle-Aged Hypertensive Men With ED

Men with hypertension are twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction as their peers with normal blood pressure, according to background information in the ESC press release.

Erectile dysfunction is thought to be a disorder of the small arteries, which lose their ability to dilate and increase blood flow. Declining testosterone levels in middle age also contribute to weakened erectile performance.

Physical fitness is linked with longer life in men with hypertension, and the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower blood pressure and fewer heart attacks and strokes in individuals at high cardiovascular risk.

Therefore, Angelis and colleagues aimed to see if greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better exercise capacity, testosterone levels, coronary flow reserve, and erectile performance in middle-aged hypertensive men with erectile dysfunction.

Participants were a mean age of 56. They had a treadmill test to determine their exercise capacity, expressed as metabolic equivalent of tasks (METs), and a blood test to determine testosterone levels.

They replied to two questionnaires: a food questionnaire to determine a Mediterranean Diet score (range, 0-55, where higher scores indicate greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet) and a Sexual Health Inventory for Men (SHIM) questionnaire (score range, 0-25, where higher scores indicate better erectile performance).

Researchers used echocardiography to determine participants' coronary flow reserve, a measure of the cardiovascular system's ability to increase blood flow when needed. They used a SphygmoCor device to determine participants' augmentation index and central pulse pressure, measures of arterial stiffness.

The men with a higher Mediterranean diet score (> 29) had better erectile performance (SHIM scores > 14), as well as higher testosterone levels, higher coronary flow reserve, and less arterial stiffness than the other men.

The fitter men with greater exercise capacity (> 10 METs) were more likely to adhere to a Mediterranean diet (scores > 25), and they also had better erectile performance (SHIM scores > 12), higher testosterone levels, greater coronary flow reserve, and less arterial stiffness than the other men.

The study did not receive any funding. The study authors and Whittaker have reported no relevant financial relationships.

European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2021.

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