According to experts from UW Health, the incidence of mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction (ED) increases an estimated 10% per decade of life. In other words, 50% of men in their 50s and 60% of men in their 60s will develop ED. When ED comes to mind, most people think of 5-phosphodiesterase inhibitors like sildenafil (Viagra). However, natural remedies abound. Foods, herbs, spices, and supplements can all boost virility, sperm function, and libido in men.
Let’s take a closer look at 10 natural remedies that can improve men’s sexual and overall health.
Although more than 85% of US adults consume caffeine, with about two-thirds drinking coffee daily, there is a paucity of information on caffeine’s effects on ED. In one study published in PLoS One, researchers who mined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that caffeine intake decreased the risk of prevalent ED in adults aged ≥ 20 years (n=3,724). This effect was highest in those who consumed 170-375 mg/day of caffeine—an amount equivalent to 2-3 daily cups of coffee. However, this decrease was only observed in certain populations.
“Even though we saw a reduction in the prevalence of ED with men who were obese, overweight and hypertensive, that was not true of men with diabetes. Diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for ED, so this was not surprising,” said lead study author David S. Lopez, DrPH, MPH, assistant professor, UTHealth School of Public Health, Houston, TX.
In another study led by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, men who drank regular or decaffeinated coffee on a daily basis demonstrated a reduced risk of lethal prostate cancer. Of note, prostate cancer can interfere with sexual function, and is the second leading cause of cancer death among US men, following lung cancer.
2. Carotenoid-containing foods
Foods containing carotenoids, such as squash, carrots, grapefruit, oranges, and apricots, have been linked to increased virility in men. Carotenoids are red, yellow, and orange pigments that act as antioxidants. In a cross-sectional study published in Fertility and Sterility, investigators assessed 189 men and found that increasing levels of carotenoid intake were correlated with increased sperm motility and, in the case of lycopene—which is carotenoid that colors fruits and veggies red—enhanced sperm morphology.
Men who eat more cooked tomatoes may have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer (OR: 0.81; 95% CI: 0.59-1.10) vs those who eat fewer cooked tomatoes (OR: 0.85; 95% CI: 0.69-1.06), according to the results of a study published in the Journal of National Science and Vitaminology. The researchers of this study attribute this difference to lycopenes found in tomatoes.
Furthermore, investigators of another study involving murine models found success in chronic lycopene treatment for diabetic ED.
4. Spicy foods
Good news for men who like it hot: In a study published in Physiology & Behavior, men (n=114) who used more pepper sauce to spice up their foods had higher levels of salivary testosterone levels. Although the investigators of this study note that their findings cannot prove causation, capsaicin—the active component in chili peppers that make them hot—has been shown to increase testosterone levels in rats in other research.
According to the results of a study published in The Journal of Nutrition involving 155 men who filled out a food-frequency questionnaire and then donated 338 semen samples, those who ate more fish had improved sperm quality, including higher sperm count and more morphologically normal sperm. The adjusted average total sperm count went up from 102 million in the lowest quartile to 168 million in the highest quartile of fish intake. On the other hand, men who ate more processed meats had lower sperm quality. “Consuming fish may have a positive impact on sperm counts and morphology, particularly when consumed instead of processed red meats,” wrote the authors.
L-citrulline, which is an amino acid found naturally in watermelon, hardens erections, according to the results of a study published in Urology. In the study, men (n=24; mean age: 56.5 years) with mild ED taking L-citrulline also reported more episodes of intercourse per month vs those taking placebo, and were “very satisfied” with the intervention. In the body, L-citrulline is converted to L-arginine, which enhances nitric oxide-mediated vasodilation and endothelial function.
“Although less effective than phosphodiesterase type-5 enzyme inhibitors, at least in the short term, L-citrulline supplementation has been proved to be safe and psychologically well accepted by patients,” wrote the authors. “Its role as an alternative treatment for mild to moderate ED, particularly in patients with a psychological fear of phosphodiesterase type-5 enzyme inhibitors, deserves further research.”
7. Mondia whitei
Mondia whitei is a medicinal plant from Africa that has been used ever since ancient times as an aphrodisiac. In a preclinical study published in Phytotherapy Research, researchers administered this extract to human spermatozoa in vitro to assess its efficacy and impact on motility. Mondia boosted total motility as well as progressive motility in a time-dependent manner. The authors suggest that this treatment may be useful in those men with decreased sperm motility.
Although pistachios are bad for the environment because they require lots of water to grow, they are, apparently, great for the penis. In a study published in theInternational Journal of Impotence Research, a 3-week diet of 100 g of pistachios per day in 17 men was associated with improved erectile function scores. Another plus: participants’ lipid parameters drastically improved following this diet.
Maca is a Peruvian plant that has long been used to treat fertility in men. In a low-power, double-blind, randomized pilot study involving 10 men with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)-induced sexual dysfunction, maca 3.0 g/day significantly boosted libido. The authors noted that “maca root may alleviate SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction, and there may be a dose-related effect. Maca may also have a beneficial effect on libido.”
In a before-after study detailed in an abstract published in Urology, researchers evaluated the effect of saffron on ED in a cohort of 20 men. During a 10-day period, participants received 200-mg saffron pills once daily in the morning for the first 9 days, followed by a 400-mg dose (two pills) on the last day. Overall, the treatment regimen resulted in improved nocturnal penile tumescence and improved erectile function among participants. Saffron is a spice commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine.