Prevention of erectile dysfunction can include making changes to lifestyle habits and nutrition. This fact surprises many men, who are not aware lifestyle can have a significant impact on erectile dysfunction. However, habits such as smoking, alcohol use, and lack of physical exercise, along with maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress and making healthy food and beverage choices, can have an effect on a man’s ability to achieve and maintain an erection. When considered together, choosing good habits that make up a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward prevention of erectile dysfunction. In fact, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles, reports that a multifaceted approach is necessary to maintain and maximize erectile health and supports attention to each of the lifestyle and nutrition issues presented here. (Meldrum)
Most men who enjoy one or two drinks a day are not likely to experience any harm to their sexual health. In fact, such moderate drinking may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Greater intake of alcohol, however, can lead to a variety of health problems, and among them may be erectile dysfunction. Conversely, avoidance of excessive alcohol can preserve normal endothelial function, and moderate alcohol use may have a favorable impact on blood flow and vascular health as well as erectile function. (Meldrum)
Investigators have found that alcohol abuse in men can disrupt testosterone production and shrink the testes. When the body breaks down alcohol, it may also disrupt normal sperm structure and mobility.
In a study of alcohol consumption and erectile dysfunction in Chinese men, researchers gathered information from 816 men aged 31 to 60 years who were currently sexually active. They found that compared with men who never drank alcohol, men who consumed three or more drinks a week were more likely to have erectile dysfunction, and that erectile difficulties were more common among men who smoked than those who never smoked. (Lee)
Men who typically consume foods that promote inflammation and contain cancer-promoting substances; that is, a high-fat diet, lots of red meat, and one that is low in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, have a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction than men who do not eat these foods. More on The Prostate Diet
On the positive side, a diet that is rich in antioxidants, which can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, boosts production of nitric oxide and prevents its breakdown. In particular, eating foods that contain folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E support the pathways that lead to the release of nitric oxide and promotion of erectile function. Prevention of erectile dysfunction includes eating foods and taking supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, as the omega-3s stimulate the release of nitric oxide from the endothelium. (Meldrum) Reducing your intake of sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates also reduces the side effects that sugar and fatty acids have on endothelial nitric oxide production, which is critical for erectile function.
Exercise, or the lack of physical activity, can impact erectile function in several ways. Daily moderate exercise stimulates the production of nitric oxide, while maintaining normal body weight also promotes nitric oxide stimulation by insulin. (Meldrum)
The cardiovascular system is intimately involved in the development of erectile dysfunction, so if you have problems with circulation and heart disease, erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign of such problems. Engaging in regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking, and other cardiovascular activities, reduces the risk of heart disease and enhances blood circulation.
In a large study from Harvard University, researchers evaluated the lifestyle habits of 31,742 men ages 53 to 90 years, none of whom had prostate cancer. Researchers found that 33 percent of men reported erectile dysfunction within the previous three months, but that men who exercised 3 to 5 hours a week had 30 percent less risk of having erectile dysfunction. Given that the risk for erectile dysfunction goes up 5 percent a year after age 50, this study showed that men who exercise regularly can gain 10 more years free of erectile dysfunction. (Bacon)
Exercise can also impact a man’s erectile function through its effect on prostate health. Men who are physically inactive are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Case in point: a study published in November 2009 reported that men who regularly engaged in moderate exercise appeared to have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. (Antonelli ). Men with prostate cancer generally experience erectile dysfunction as a result of treatment for the disease so anything that can lower the risk of prostate cancer will, by association, impact on erectile function.
Cardiovascular exercise is not the only type of exercise that can benefit erectile function. Exercises called Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These exercises can be done anywhere—while sitting in your office, driving your car, standing in line at the bank—because they involve voluntarily squeezing or contracting certain muscles and then releasing them. Performing this exercise several times a day for just a few minutes may make a significant impact on the prevention of erectile dysfunction.
Research indicates there is a relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008, obesity correlated with a decline in testosterone level. Among the 2,435 participants in the study, all of whom had sought help for sexual dysfunction, 41.5 percent were normal weight and 58.5 percent were overweight or obese. The investigators found that the more severe the obesity, the lower the testosterone level. Obese men were also more likely to have abnormal penile blood flow. (Corona)
A relationship between obesity, a high-fat diet, and erectile dysfunction was explored in a 2010 study published in BJU International. The team of scientists used a mouse model and found that compared with mice fed a normal diet, those fed the high-fat diet had impairments related to the endothelium and cavernosal relaxation, which leads to erectile dysfunction. (Toque 2010) In another 2010 study, researchers reported that among the 2,725 normal weight, 1,488 overweight, and 350 obese men in their study of sexuality and obesity, obese men were more likely than normal weight men to experience erectile dysfunction. (Bajos)
Scientists have found strong evidence of a link between cigarette smoking and the development of erectile dysfunction. Cigarette smoking causes constriction of blood vessels, which restricts blood flow throughout the body, including the penis. It also aggravates atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which increases the risk for erectile dysfunction.
In a study conducted at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, researchers evaluated the association between cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction in 7,684 men ages 35 to 74 who did not have vascular disease. They found that an estimated 22.7 percent of cases of erectile dysfunction might be attributable to smoking. The likelihood that a man would develop erectile dysfunction increased as the number of cigarettes smoked increased, and the association was even stronger among men who had diabetes. (He)
In another study, scientists noted that cigarette smoking, hypertension, and diabetes are significant risk factors for erectile dysfunction. Of 658 men with erectile dysfunction, 40.1 percent were smokers. (Zedan)
Stress is your reaction to anything that happens to you or occurs in your environment that requires you to make an adjustment or to respond. Everyone experiences stress, but not everyone responds to a given situation in the same way. Although a small or moderate amount of stress can be healthy because it keeps you alert and ready to face challenges, too much stress or chronic stress can cause a wide variety of physical and emotional problems, including erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction can result when men experience stress related to their job, relationships, financial difficulties, or other issues. In fact, losing an erection, even if it happens only occasionally, can be stressful, and men can then begin to expect failure, which feeds their self-doubt and their stress level, setting up a vicious cycle and reinforcing their erectile dysfunction.
Even if stress is not the main cause of a man’s erectile dysfunction, it can exacerbate the problem. For example, if a man is experiencing erectile dysfunction following a prostatectomy, feeling anxious about his condition and perhaps worrying about how it is affecting his relationship with his partner can make the problem worse.
Prevention of erectile dysfunction associated with stress requires men to identify the causes of stress and to take steps to reduce them. Some men respond to stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, relaxation exercises, or yoga, while others get relief by talking with a sex therapist or counselor or by discussing their concerns with a trusted physician. It is often helpful to engage the man’s partner in any therapy or discussions sessions, as having a supportive mate can be an effective stress reducer.
Lee AC et al. The effect of alcohol drinking on erectile dysfunction in Chinese men. Int J Impot Res 2010 Jul; 22(4): 272-28
Meldrum DR et al. A multifaceted approach to maximize erectile function and vascular health. Fertil Steril 2010 May 25
Bacon CG et al. Sexual function in men older than 50 years of age: Results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Ann Intern Med 2003 Aug 5; 138(3): 161-68
Bajos N et al. Sexuality and obesity, a gender perspective: results from French national random probability survey of sexual behaviours. BMJ 2010 Jun 15; 340:c2573
Corona G et al. Low levels of androgens in men with erectile dysfunction and obesity. J Sex Med 2008 Oct; 5(10): 2454-63
Toque HA et al. High-fat diet associated with obesity induces impairment of mouse corpus cavernosum responses. BJU Int 2010 Oct 13; doi: 10.1111/j.14640-410X.2010.09704.x
He J et al. Cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction among Chinese men without clinical vascular disease. Am J Epidemiol 2007 Oct 1; 166(7): 803-9
Zedan H et al. Cigarette smoking, hypertension and diabetes mellitus as risk factors for erectile dysfunction in upper Egypt. East Mediterr Health J 2010 Mar; 16(3): 281-85