The Mediterranean is a romantic place. Salt water licks pale cream coastlines and deep purple wine flows from happy hands. The food: plump tomatoes, spicy cheese and smooth olive oil.
According to new research, this part of the world isn’t just sexy: its cuisine can make your sex life better.
Dr. Athanasios Angelis is a researcher and doctor at the Hippocration General Hospital in Greece. In August, Angelis and colleagues presented evidence linking the Mediterranean diet to improving erectile dysfunction at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.
“Probably the best way for men to maintain erectile function is to take care of their health,” says Angelis Inverse. “The Mediterranean diet is an excellent choice that combines health with culinary enjoyment, as it contains a wide variety of delicious dishes.”
Why the Mediterranean diet can improve erectile dysfunction ultimately depends on its relationship with vascular health. There is evidence that erectile dysfunction is primarily a vascular disease, and the Mediterranean diet – a diet pattern that incorporates the cuisine of neighboring countries – is known to promote heart health.
The discovery – Angelis and colleagues studied 250 men with high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction. They were 56 years old on average.
On a scale from 0 to 55, the men were asked how much they stick to the Mediterranean diet. From there, the study team assessed various components of health: a treadmill test was used to determine their exercise capacity, and blood samples showed testosterone levels. The study team also performed echocardiography tests – an ultrasound of the heart – to assess heart health.
A survey called the Sexual Health Inventory for Men was also used to measure the severity of the participant’s erectile dysfunction. The survey uses five questions to determine a score from 0 to 25, with 25 being the best for erectile performance.
Ultimately, the study team found that men who scored 29 or higher on following the Mediterranean diet also had:
- The highest level of testosterone
- Better erectile performance
- Lower arterial stiffness
- Higher coronary flow (the blood circulation in the heart)
These results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published, but Angelis hopes they will be available soon.
Why Can Dieting Improve Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection. It is the most common sexual problem faced by men.
While it used to be thought to be mainly caused by mental health problems, researchers now know that behind most of the examples there are physical problems. Elevated blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes have all been linked to erectile dysfunction. Studies suggest that erectile dysfunction can also be an early sign of cardiovascular disease.
Erectile dysfunction is more common in middle-aged men because they “amassing years of common risk factors,” explains Angelis. These risk factors include an unhealthy diet, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking. Lower testosterone levels are often associated with erectile dysfunction.
While the study team did not investigate the mechanisms why the Mediterranean diet has been linked to these benefits, Angelis speculates that the diet improves blood vessel function and limits testosterone drop.
“The Mediterranean diet can contribute to higher testosterone levels by reducing inflammatory pathways that increase the atherosclerotic process and suppress endogenous androgens,” he says. (Atherosclerosis is the thickening of arteries, and androgens are sex hormones like testosterone.)
Testosterone is also lower in people with higher blood pressure, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and heart disease, explains Angelis. Again, there is a “strong and inverse link” between testosterone and cardiovascular health. “The Mediterranean diet is beneficial for both vascular physiology and hormone levels,” he says.
Who will benefit from the Mediterranean diet?
While the men in the study were middle-aged, according to Angelis, the results suggest that it would be wise for younger men to adopt the diet as well.
“The Mediterranean diet is an excellent culinary preference that can also help younger people maintain vascular health and thus prevent erectile dysfunction,” he says. Diet, in turn, can help fight cardiovascular disease.
- Whole grain products (such as oats, buckwheat, and pasta)
- olive oil
- Low intake of red meat
- Low intake of dairy products
Angelis critically advises men to view the Mediterranean diet less as a diet and more as a part of their lifestyle. Another component, he emphasizes, is exercise.
Together they strengthen the “erectile function and of course the vascular function” – components that strengthen each other and can benefit from a leafy salad paired with jogging.