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How Sex and Health Go Hand-In-Hand

Posted by Cole Adam on
How Sex and Health Go Hand-In-Hand

Sex can be fun, romantic, and even exhilarating, but did you know it's also important for your health? A 2014 Harvard Study notes that having sex may rev up metabolism and boost the immune system, and is associated with fewer heart attacks.1 Plus, it’s fun! Yet sexual function tends to decline as overall health declines, so adopting a healthy lifestyle can often lead to improved sexual function.

Regular exercise, not smoking tobacco, limiting or avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough sleep, managing or reducing stress, being social and eating a healthy diet are all well-established lifestyle behaviors that improve overall health and would likely improve sexual function as well. When we zero in on diet, there’s growing amount of research suggesting that dietary changes alone can drastically benefit sexual function.

One of the most common sexual performance issues in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s estimated that 40% of men over 40 years old are affected by ED.2 Although emotional and psychological factors can play a role, the major cause appears to be poor cardiovascular health. This also appears to be true for women, as high cholesterol and high blood pressure are both associated with lower arousal, orgasms, lubrication and satisfaction. 3-4

Why would poor cardiovascular be associated with poor sexual function?

In men, ED is a disease of the cardiovascular system. ED has been called the “canary in the coal mine” or “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cardiovascular health. This is because poor vascular health in the penis strongly predicts poor vascular health in other areas of the body, such as the heart.5-10 This is why men with ED are more likely to suffer from heart attacks, stroke and premature death from all causes.11

Sexual dysfunction affects 30-50% of American women.12 As with ED, emotional and relational elements can play a role, but so can physiological factors. During sexual arousal increased blood flow leads to clitoral engorgement and vaginal relaxation and lubrication.12 Impaired blood flow can impair these changes, thus negatively affecting sexual function and pleasure.

Given that vascular health is closely tied to sexual health, one would assume that diet changes linked to better vascular health would also lead to improvements in sexual health. And indeed, shifting to a plant-based diet — which has been shown to drastically improve vascular health — has also been shown to improve ED in men, and boost female sexual function measurements in women.13-16 These changes appear to be due to the improved blood flow, reduced inflammation and greater antioxidant consumption seen with plant-based diets.17-19

A plant-based diet centered on whole grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds should be the foundation of a “sexual enhancing” diet. However, the following foods may be particularly beneficial:

Apples

One study suggests that women who eat more apples tend to have better sexuality.20

Nuts (pistachios)

A study found that adding pistachios to the diet improved ED in men.21

Watermelon

Watermelon is rich in citrulline—a compound that improves blood flow.22

Dark leafy greens and beets

These foods are rich in nitrates, which can improve blood flow.23

Other foods that would be expected to offer benefits would be any antioxidant-rich foods. These includes berries, green tea, onions, citrus fruit, broccoli, dark chocolate, cherries, pecans, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and sunflower seeds. Plant-based foods, on average, contain 64 times more antioxidants than animal products, which is why we want to eat a diet based on plants.24 

THE BOTTOM LINE

A healthy lifestyle can improve sexual function. In turn, having sex can improve our health and happiness (now, that's what we call a symbiotic relationship!). Dietary changes that address blood flow – the common underlying cause of sexual dysfunction – can lead to improvements in sexual function, sexual pleasure and overall health. In other words, what’s helps maintain a healthy heart beat will also help you in the sheets (or wherever you please 😉).

 

References:

  1. Harvard Health Letter, Pill-free ways to improve your sex life; 2014

  2. Jackson, Graham. “Erectile dysfunction and coronary disease: evaluating the link.” Maturitas 72,3 (2012): 263-4. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2012.03.012

  3. Esposito, Katherine et al. “Hyperlipidemia and sexual function in premenopausal women.” The journal of sexual medicine 6,6 (2009): 1696-1703. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01284.x

  4. Duncan, L E et al. “Does hypertension and its pharmacotherapy affect the quality of sexual function in women?.” American journal of hypertension 13,6 Pt 1 (2000): 640-7. doi:10.1016/s0895-7061(99)00288-5

  5. Gupta, Nikhil et al. “Penile Doppler ultrasound predicting cardiovascular disease in men with erectile dysfunction.” Current urology reports 16,3 (2015): 16. doi:10.1007/s11934-015-0482-1

  6. Meldrum, David R et al. “The link between erectile and cardiovascular health: the canary in the coal mine.” The American journal of cardiology 108,4 (2011): 599-606. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2011.03.093

  7. Schwartz, B G, and R A Kloner. “How to save a life during a clinic visit for erectile dysfunction by modifying cardiovascular risk factors.” International journal of impotence research 21,6 (2009): 327-35. doi:10.1038/ijir.2009.38

  8. Yao, F et al. “Subclinical endothelial dysfunction and low-grade inflammation play roles in the development of erectile dysfunction in young men with low risk of coronary heart disease.” International journal of andrology 35,5 (2012): 653-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2605.2012.01273.x

  9. Corona, Giovanni et al. “Penile doppler ultrasound in patients with erectile dysfunction (ED): role of peak systolic velocity measured in the flaccid state in predicting arteriogenic ED and silent coronary artery disease.” The journal of sexual medicine 5,11 (2008): 2623-34. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00982.x

  10. Inman, Brant A et al. “A population-based, longitudinal study of erectile dysfunction and future coronary artery disease.” Mayo Clinic proceedings 84,2 (2009): 108-13. doi:10.4065/84.2.108

  11. Dong, Jia-Yi et al. “Erectile dysfunction and risk of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 58,13 (2011): 1378-85. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2011.06.024

  12. Berman, J R. “Physiology of female sexual function and dysfunction.” International journal of impotence research 17 Suppl 1 (2005): S44-51. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901428

  13. Esposito, K et al. “Mediterranean diet improves erectile function in subjects with the metabolic syndrome.” International journal of impotence research 18,4 (2006): 405-10. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901447

  14. Esposito, K et al. “Mediterranean diet improves sexual function in women with the metabolic syndrome.” International journal of impotence research 19,5 (2007): 486-91. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901555

  15. Giugliano, Francesco et al. “Adherence to Mediterranean diet and sexual function in women with type 2 diabetes.” The journal of sexual medicine 7,5 (2010): 1883-90. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.01714.x

  16. La, Justin et al. “Diet and Men's Sexual Health.” Sexual medicine reviews 6,1 (2018): 54-68. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2017.07.004

  17. Barnard, Neal D et al. “Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports.” Nutrients 11,1 130. 10 Jan. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11010130

  18. Watzl B. Anti-inflammatory effects of plant-based foods and of their constituents. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2008 Dec;78(6):293-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831.78.6.293. PMID: 19685439.

  19. Franzini, L et al. “Food selection based on high total antioxidant capacity improves endothelial function in a low cardiovascular risk population.” Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD 22,1 (2012): 50-7. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2010.04.001

  20. Cai, Tommaso et al. “Apple consumption is related to better sexual quality of life in young women.” Archives of gynecology and obstetrics 290,1 (2014): 93-8. doi:10.1007/s00404-014-3168-x

  21. Aldemir, M et al. “Pistachio diet improves erectile function parameters and serum lipid profiles in patients with erectile dysfunction.” International journal of impotence research 23,1 (2011): 32-8. doi:10.1038/ijir.2010.33

  22. Figueroa, Arturo et al. “Effects of watermelon supplementation on aortic blood pressure and wave reflection in individuals with prehypertension: a pilot study.” American journal of hypertension 24,1 (2011): 40-4. doi:10.1038/ajh.2010.142

  23. Kapil, Vikas et al. “Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979) 65,2 (2015): 320-7. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.04675

  24. Carlsen, Monica H et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal 9 3. 22 Jan. 2010, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3

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