Can Diet Cure ED?
If you search the Internet, you’ll find lists of specific foods that are supposed to be good for erectile dysfunction. The evidence to support the claims is pretty weak. Even in cases where studies show positive results, the improvements are small. There are no “magic bullets” – though these is one food that has shown surprisingly positive results. We’ll get to below, so keep reading!
So for most men, a change in diet will not cure erectile dysfunction… but it can help to lessen the symptoms and the progression of ED1.
The most common cause of ED is a cardio-vascular problem (see our article on Causes of Erectile Dysfunction). In these cases, improving your circulation with a heart-healthy diet can certainly lessen the effects of ED. Note that diet will not help with non-vascular causes of ED, such as nerve damage or venous leaks.
Most physicians recommend plenty of exercise, and a Mediterranean diet. A review of research studies2, conducted in 2018, found that a regular program of aerobic exercise can improve ED in obese or sedentary men.
If you are not accustomed to regular exercise, talk to your doctor to be sure your heart is healthy enough, and to plan an exercise program to get you started.
Note that diet and exercise can also play a role in treating low testosterone levels.
The Mediterranean Diet for Erectile Dysfunction
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy and tasty way to eat, and it has been shown to help men with erectile dysfunction3. Studies have also shown that the diet can alleviate depression… which itself can be a cause of ED4.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet are simple:
- Meals should be plant-based, consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals. Healthy options include:
- Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), brocolli, carrots.
- Legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans).
- Sweet potatoes or yams.
- Limit meat portions to roughly 4 ounces (the size of a deck of playing cards).
- Substitute fish or poultry for red meat. Eat fish at least twice a week, and red meet no more than once a week. Avoid sausage, bacon, and other fatty meats.
- For snacks, choose small portions of almonds, cashews, pistachios walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or vegetables. You can also spread natural peanut butter (no hydrogenated fat added) or tahini on whole-grain crackers.
- Use olive oil or canola oil as a healthy alternative to butter or margarine.
- Choose low-fat dairy product, including skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
- Season your meals with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 10 ounces of red wine per day (5 ounces for men over 65).
- Avoid refined sugar, sweetened drinks, or fruits packed in syrup.
- If you smoke, STOP! Studies have shown a strong link between smoking and erectile dysfunction5.
Special Foods for Erectile Dysfunction
If you search the Internet, you’ll find lists of specific foods that are supposed to be good for erectile dysfunction. We’ve researched this topic extensively, searching databases of clinical studies, and found little evidence that these foods provide significant benefits from men with ED. (We suspect that most of the sites on the web are simply copying lists from one another.)
To clarify this, many of these foods are heart-healthy and beneficial, but there is no evidence that they actually have significant benefits for men with ED.
For example, you’ll often hear that watermelon is a great remedy for ED. This belief seems to come from a study done in 20076, which showed that consuming watermelon could raised levels of L-arginine in the bloodstream. L-arginine is used in the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is a key to healthy erections (see our article, “How Do Erections Work“). However, the study did not show that consuming watermelon actually improved erections. Also, the subjects consumed the equivalent of three eight-ounce glasses of watermelon juice per day!
Nevertheless, there is no harm in adding these foods to a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, so we’ve included the list below:
Flavinoids have been linked directly to improved circulation, and a small reduction in the incidence of ED7. However, the processing used to produce commercial chocolate removes most of the flavinoids8. The reduced flavinoids, and added sugar and fat can make dark chocolate a less-the-healthy choice9.
Garlic contains allicin, a substance that may improve circulation and reduce hypertension. A study in 201310 found that S‐allyl cysteine, a chemical derived from garlic, improved erectile dysfunction. But garlic actually contains very little of this chemical, so it’s not an effective treatment for ED.
A study11 found that honey improved the erectile function in rats exposed to cigarette smoke by countering some of the toxic affects of tobacco. A far better solution is to stop smoking!
Leafy Greens (celery, spinach, kale) and beets may increase circulation because of their high concentration of nitrates. Nitrates are vasodilators, which means they open up blood vessels and increase blood flow.
A 2018 cohort study from the University of Athens found that Greek men who followed a Mediterranean diet, and consumed 9 tablespoons of olive oil per week, were approximately 40% less likely to develop erectile dysfunction12. However, since a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is good for cardio-vascular health, it’s not clear how big a role the olive oil played.
Despite their long-standing reputation, we found no clinical evidence that oysters are an effective treatment for ED.
Note that oysters are high in zinc. In rare cases, a zinc deficiency may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction. If your doctor determines that you have a zinc deficiency, they may prescribe supplements, or you may be able to obtain the necessary zinc from dietary sources, including red meat, shellfish, and legumes.
Pink Grapefruit, Tomatoes
Both contain high concentrations of lycopene, which improves circulation. There is no direct evidence that this improves ED.
A study in 2011 concluded that eating three to four ounces of pistachio nuts per day improved ED13. However, there was no control group in the study, so the improvements may have been due to a placebo effect.
A study in 2007 suggested that pomegranate juice may help with ED14. However, the study was small, and the results were not statistically significant.
Salmon and other Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and may boost nitric oxide production.
Walnuts contain L-arginine, which is used in the production of nitric oxide. However, most of the L-arginine is broken down during the digestive process, and little reaches the bloodstream.
As noted above, watermelon may raise levels of L-arginine in the bloodstream, and increase production of nitric oxides. Watermelon is also rich in antioxidants.
A Magic Bullet?
As we’ve seen, there is little or no real evidence that various special foods will actually help with ED. However, researchers have found one surprising exception:
Coffee / Caffeine
A study found that men who consume the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee per day have a 39% lower incidence of erectile dysfunction than men who do not drink coffee15. Although the study showed a correlation between drinking coffee and a lowered incidence of ED, it did not demonstrate a causative relationship. Note that consuming larger amounts of coffee can raise stress and adrenaline levels, and can actually contribute to ED.
Book recommendations are chosen by our editorial staff. We will receive a small royalty if you purchase these books using our Buy at Amazon buttons.
The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day
from America’s Test Kitchen
Bring the Mediterranean–from Italy and Greece, to Morocco and Egypt, to Turkey and Lebanon–into your kitchen with more than 500 fresh, flavorful recipes. This comprehensive cookbook translates the famously healthy Mediterranean diet for home cooks with a wide range of creative recipes, many fast enough to be made on a weeknight, using ingredients available at your local supermarket.
- Hehemann, Marah C.; Kashanian, James A. “Can lifestyle modification affect men’s erectile function?” Translational Andrology and Urology. Apr 2016; 5(2): 187–194. doi: 10.21037/tau.2016.02.05
- Gerbild, Helle; Larsen, Camilla Marie; Graugaard, Christian; Josefsson, Kristina Areskoug. “Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies.” Journal of Sexual Medicine. June 2018; 6(2): 75–89.
- Di Francesco, Simona; Tenaglia, Raffaele Lanfranco. “Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction: a current perspective.” Central European Journal of Urology. Jun 2017; 70(2): 185–187
- Jacka, Felice N.; O’Neil, Adrienne; Opie, Rachelle; Itsiopoulos, Catherine; Cotton, Sue; Mohebbi, Mohammedreza; Castle, David; Dash, Sarah; Mihalopoulos, Cathrine; Chatterton, Mary Lou; Brazionis, Laima; Dean, Olivia M; Hodge Allison M; Berk, Michael. “A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression.” BMC Medicine. Jan 2017.
- Kovac, J R; Labbate, C; Ramasamy, R; Tang, D; Lipshultz L I. “Effects of cigarette smoking on erectile dysfunction.” Andrologia. Dec 2015; 47(10): 1087–1092.
- Wu, Guoyao; Collins, Julie K; Perkins-Veazie, Penelope; Siddiq, Muhammad; Dolan, Kirk D; Kelly, Katherine A; Heaps, Cristine L; Meininger, Cynthia J. “Dietary Supplementation with Watermelon Pomace Juice Enhances Arginine Availability and Ameliorates the Metabolic Syndrome in Zucker Diabetic Fatty Rats.” The Journal of Nutrition. Dec 2007. Volume 137, Issue 12, Pages 2680–2685.
- Cassidy, Aedín Franz, Mary; Rimm, Eric B. “Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Jan 2016. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122010.
- Di Mattia, Carla D; Sacchetti, Giampiero; Mastrocola, Dino; Serafini, Mauro. “From Cocoa to Chocolate: The Impact of Processing on In Vitro Antioxidant Activity and the Effects of Chocolate on Antioxidant Markers.” Frontiers in Immunology. Sep 2017. 8: 1207.
- “The Devil in Dark Chocolate,” The Lancet. Dec 2007.
- Yang, J; Wang T; Yang J; Rao, K; Zhan, Y; Chen, R B; Liu, Z; Li, M C; Zhuan, L; Zang, G H; Guo, S M; Xu, H; Wang, S G; Liu, J H; Ye, Z Q. “S‐allyl cysteine restores erectile function through inhibition of reactive oxygen species generation in diabetic rats.” Andrology. 2013:487–494.
- Mohamed M; et al. “Protective effect of honey against cigarette smoke induced-impaired sexual behavior and fertility of male rats.” Toxicology and Industrial Health. 2012 Jan 24.
- Mandal, Ananya. “Mediterranean diet could be better than ‘Viagra’ for erectile dysfunction.” News-Medical.net. Aug 31, 2018.
- Aldemir, M; Okulu, E; Neşelioğlu, S; Erel, O; Kayıgil, O. “Pistachio diet improves erectile function parameters and serum lipid profiles in patients with erectile dysfunction.” International Journal of Impotence Research. Jan-Feb 2011. 23(1):32-8. doi: 10.1038/ijir.2010.33.
- Forest, CP1; Padma-Nathan, H; Liker, HR. “Efficacy and safety of pomegranate juice on improvement of erectile dysfunction in male patients with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study” International Journal of Impotence Research. Nov-Dec 2007. 19(6):564-7
- Lopez, D S; Wang, R; Tsilidis K K; Zhu, H; Daniel, C R; Sinha, A; Canfield S. “Role of Caffeine Intake on Erectile Dysfunction in US Men: Results from NHANES 2001-2004.” PLOS ONE. Apr 2015. 10(4):e0123547. doi: 10.1371