Erectile dysfunction is a major cause of decreased quality of life in men—so much so that one early theory suggested that this may explain the link between impotence and heart attacks. Depression is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, and the thought was that men who couldn’t get it up become so depressed that they die of a broken heart.
Now we know that erectile dysfunction and heart disease can be two different manifestations of the exact same root problem, diseased arteries—inflamed, oxidized, cholesterol-clogged blood vessels. So it’s no wonder that a diet chock-full of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering plant foods would improve sexual functioning in both men and women, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease. A completely plant-based diet can even stop and reverse our number one killer.
Of all the plant foods individually examined so far, nuts appear most tied to longevity. Just two handfuls a week may extend a woman’s life as much as jogging 4 hours a week (see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer). So, if nuts reduce the risk of heart disease, might they also help with sexual dysfunction?
Men eating 3 to 4 handfuls of pistachios a day for just 3 weeks experienced both significant improvement in blood flow through the penis and significantly firmer erections. This is not surprising. Remember how antioxidant-rich foods have a Viagra-like effect of boosting nitric oxide production? (The Power of NO) And remember how the citruline in watermelons helped with erection firmness by boosting arginine, (Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction), which is what our body makes nitric oxide out of? Well, pistachios have a bunch of antioxidants and arginine, which may help explain the improvement in blood flow.
We also know that cholesterol is an important predictor of sexual dysfunction in both men and women, and after just three weeks those eating pistachios had significant improvements in cholesterol. And like other studies that piled on hundreds of calories of nuts a day, there was no weight gain. (For more on this remarkable effect, see my videos Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence, Solving the Mystery of the Missing Calories, and Testing the Pistachio Principle). Conclusion: “Just three weeks of pistachios resulted in a significant improvement in erectile function with additional improvement in cholesterol without any side effects.”
Note the two important differences between diet and drugs. Drugs like Viagra just cover up the symptoms of the underlying problem–unhealthy arteries. Eating whole healthy plant foods like nuts actually helps attack the root cause—cholesterol, oxidation, and inflammation—and has only good side effects.
The enzyme that Viagra-like drugs inhibit is found primarily in two places in the body: the erectile tissue of the penis and the retina of the eye. That’s why the FDA encourages people to stop taking drugs like Viagra, and “call a doctor right away if you experience sudden loss of vision.” (Assuming you can still find your phone.)
Though the harms (such as cyanopsia in which everything in your vision suddenly becomes tinted blue) tend to be self-limited and reversible, why risk side-effects at all when the problem can be reversed and cured in the first place, improving the quality and quantity of our lives? Improvement of sexual function in men should be added to the growing list of clinical benefits brought about by a healthy lifestyle.
I discuss the epidemic of adverse prescription drug side-effects in my 2012-13 annual review Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and my new 2013-14 live presentation More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.
The video above is the final installment of 3-part video series on sexual health. If you missed the first two, check out Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death and 50 Shades of Greens.
In addition to improving penile blood flow, nuts may also help prevent breast cancer (Tree Nuts or Peanuts for Breast Cancer Prevention?), inflammatory diseases (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and sudden death (How Do Nuts Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death?).
Michael Greger, M.D.
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