Sticking to the Mediterranean diet may help ease erectile dysfunction in some men, according to a new study. File Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A plant-based diet may help relieve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, a study presented Wednesday during the European Society of Cardiology Congress found.
Men with high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction who adhered to the Mediterranean diet -- which emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, as well as seafood, dairy and poultry in moderation -- saw improved blood flow and performed better on measures of sexual health, the data showed.
They also showed signs of improved heart health and higher exercise capacity, as well as boosted testosterone levels and enhanced "erectile performance," the researchers said.
Erectile performance refers to the ability to achieve and maintain an erection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"In our study, consuming a Mediterranean diet was linked with better exercise capacity, healthier arteries and blood flow, higher testosterone levels and better erectile performance," study co-author Dr. Athanasios Angelis said in a press release.
"While we did not examine mechanisms, 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," said Angelis, a research associate at the University of Athens in Greece.
The Mediterranean diet is modeled after the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It includes plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and olive oil.
Previous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can help reduce heart disease risk and lower blood pressure, the latter of which doubles a man's risk for erectile dysfunction, Angelis said.
ED occurs when the small arteries, which carry blood, lose the ability to dilate and augment flow, but declining testosterone levels in middle age can also play a role, he said.
For this study, Angelis and his colleagues assessed adherence to the Mediterranean diet among 250 middle-aged men with high blood pressure and ED, and then examined whether dietary habits were linked with fitness, testosterone levels, blood flow, arterial stiffness and erectile performance.
The average age of men in the study was 56, and Mediterranean diet consumption was assessed by questionnaire, with participants receiving a score of 0 to 55 and higher values indicating greater adherence.
Exercise capacity was assessed with a treadmill test and testosterone was measured in blood samples taken before 9 a.m. daily.
Severity of ED was measured using the Sexual Health Inventory for Men test, which uses five questions about erectile ability to allocate a score of 0 to 25, with higher values indicating better erectile performance, according to the researchers.
Men with a Mediterranean diet scores above 29 had improved blood flow, higher testosterone levels and better erectile performance, with a Sexual Health Inventory for Men score of 14 or higher, the data showed.
In addition, men with greater exercise capacity showed evidence of improved blood flow, higher testosterone levels and better erectile performance, and had Mediterranean diet scores above 25, the researchers said.
"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," Angelis said.