The Foods That Boost Your Sexual Function
Scientific advice for improving our sex lives tends to be the same as the advice for living a healthy life in general; exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, watch your weight, and eat right. As research from all around the world has shown, lifestyle changes that are good for our heart also improve our sexual function.
As well as being visible through improved physical health, this link can of course also be demonstrated by correlations that show individuals suffering from both heart problems and sexual dysfunction. For example, it has been found that women’s sexual function is significantly affected by coronary artery disease. The narrowing of blood flow through our arteries that occurs with such a disease includes the arteries that supply our pelvis, meaning high cholesterol or high blood pressure can directly affect sexual function.
So, what’s the solution? After all, those of you who read our previous piece on saffron and its effect on sexual dysfunction will remember that even a specific spice can have a large effect in this area. It is claimed that putting women on a more plant-based diet may help with sexual functioning. Foods such as whole grain, fruits, vegetables, walnuts and olive oil that make up a Mediterranean-style diet have been found to be effective in “ameliorating sexual function in women”, and the same diet had an equally positive effect on men. In fact, a larger and more specific study on men found that “each additional daily serving of fruit or vegetables” may reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction by 10%.
But why do these foods have this effect?
The same study believes it may due to anti-inflammatory effects. Two years on a healthier diet resulted in a significant reduction in systemic inflammation as could be identified by reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Fibre within the foods that make up diets such as the Mediterranean one earlier described may play an anti-inflammatory role itself, as those who eat the most fibre tended to have significantly lower levels of inflammation in their bodies. In comparison, saturated fat consumption was “modestly associated” with increased CRP; further evidence of the effect our diets have on our bodies.
What many people don’t realise is that these changes in system inflammation can occur very quickly. The studies cited above explored the the reduction in CRP over a lengthy period of time, yet the level of inflammation in our body can be altered by a single meal.
Evidence of this claim is based on research into a pro-inflammatory signaling molecule in our bodies called interleukin-18 (IL-18). IL-18 is thought to play a role in destabilizing atherosclerotic plaques and as such the level of IL-18 in our blood is considered a strong predictor of cardiovascular death.
The experiment researchers created to assess how and how quickly IL-18 levels can change saw different groups given one of three different meals, these were:
- A high fat meal consisting of sausage and egg-butter-olive oil sandwiches.
- Cheese-less pizza with a white flour crust.
- The same cheese-less pizza but with a whole wheat crust.
The results? Within hours of eating the sausage sandwich, IL-18 levels shot up about 20% - an effect that didn’t occur after eating the plant-based pizza. As for those eating the whole food plant-based pizza, well, they enjoyed about a 20% drop in IL-18 levels within hours. These results echo the dietary recommendations hinted at above to eat a diet high in fibre and low in saturated fat to prevent chronic diseases.
- Moyad MA, Park K. What do most erectile dysfunction guidelines have in common? No evidence-based discussion or recommendation of heart-healthy lifestyle changes and/or Panax ginseng. Asian J Androl. 2012 Nov;14(6):830-41.
- Steinke EE. Sexual dysfunction in women with cardiovascular disease: what do we know? J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2010 Mar-Apr;25(2):151-8.
- Esposito K, Ciotola M, Giugliano F, Schisano B, Autorino R, Iuliano S, Vietri MT, Cioffi M, De Sio M, Giugliano D. Mediterranean diet improves sexual function in women with the metabolic syndrome. Int J Impot Res. 2007 Sep-Oct;19(5):486-91.
- Esposito K, Ciotola M, Giugliano F, De Sio M, Giugliano G, D'armiento M, Giugliano D. Mediterranean diet improves erectile function in subjects with the metabolic syndrome. Int J Impot Res. 2006 Jul-Aug;18(4):405-10.
- Wang F, Dai S, Wang M, Morrison H. Erectile dysfunction and fruit/vegetable consumption among diabetic Canadian men. Urology. 2013 Dec;82(6):1330-5.
- Esposito K, Nappo F, Giugliano F, Di Palo C, Ciotola M, Barbieri M, Paolisso G, Giugliano D. Meal modulation of circulating interleukin 18 and adiponectin concentrations in healthy subjects and in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;78(6):1135-40.
- Blankenberg S, Tiret L, Bickel C, Peetz D, Cambien F, Meyer J, Rupprecht HJ; AtheroGene Investigators. Interleukin-18 is a strong predictor of cardiovascular death in stable and unstable angina. Circulation. 2002 Jul 2;106(1):24-30.