Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to acquire or sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. It is a common condition that affects 15 million to 30 million men in the United States.1
For the vast majority of men who suffer from ED, the problem lies with decreased blood flow related to poor vascular health. Most American men die from cardiovascular disease, but few probably realize vascular health affects circulation all over the body, not just in and around the heart.
Luckily, as we learned more than 20 years ago with cardiovascular research2, impeded blood flow is a condition that can be reversed, with arteries literally opening up again, simply by adopting a low-fat, plant-based diet. While it makes sense that what works to open up some pipes will open up all pipes, a study looked specifically at impotence and healthful dietary changes and found that normal sexual function returned in almost one-third of the men who ate less saturated fat and cholesterol (both of which are abundant in animal products) and more fiber (only found in plant foods), compared with a 5 percent recovery in the group that received modest health recommendations. Side effects of dietary changes in this study included reduced weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose.3
For men who perform without issue, their sperm may not be able to boast the same. Emerging research notes that processed meat products, such as hot dogs and bacon, lower sperm quantity and quality. Researchers analyzed 364 samples of semen from 156 men who were having reproductive difficulties and asked the men to complete a food record. Those participants with higher intakes of processed meat products, more than just one-third of a serving per day, saw more abnormalities in sperm count, size, and shape, compared with men who ate less.4
1. Tharyan P, Gopalakrishanan G. Erectile dysfunction. Clin Evid (Online). 2006;2006:1803.
2. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet. 1990;336:129-133.
3. Esposito K, Giugliano F, Di Palo C, et al. Effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in obese men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004;291:2978-2984.
4. Afeiche M. Meat intake and semen parameters among men attending a fertility clinic. Report presented at: American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2013 Annual Meeting; October 14, 2013: Boston, MA.