My patients often ask me what they can do to improve their sex lives. They’re surprised with I tell them that one of the best things they can do is watch what they eat. But it’s true. After all, as the cliché goes, “You are what you eat.” Your body -- including your sex organs -- is maintained by what you eat and drink. Eat right, and everything improves -- including sexual health.
As with most things in life, I think a helpful motto is: “All things in moderation, including excess.” The idea is to avoid extremes in any direction and yet to preserve the pleasure of eating as well. For example, a lot of research shows that guys who are overweight -- especially in the belly -- have lower testosterone levels and are more likely to have problems with their erections. That’s because excess fat gets converted to estrogen-like compounds which curtail the production of testosterone. Also, fat in the blood can clog the small arteries feeding the penis. So if you’re overweight, try to lose at least some of it. I know…easier said than done. But if you start by cutting back on processed foods loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, and avoid sugary drinks, you’ll be making a great start.
Moderation is also a good guideline when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Many studies show that deficiencies of vitamin E, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, and a host of other vitamins hurt a man or a woman’s fertility. But that doesn’t mean you should go out and start popping extra zinc tablets. Mega-doses of any vitamin can cause problems -- the body is simply not built for such levels and you’ll be wasting both money and your health this way. Everyone needs adequate levels of all the key vitamins, particularly the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E. It’s best to get your vitamins from real foods -- because fruits and vegetables give you a lot of other good stuff besides vitamins, like fiber and minerals. But with today’s lifestyles, that isn’t always possible, so I think it makes sense to take a general-purpose vitamin supplement every day just to cover your bases.
There are also a few key food nutrients that are clearly linked to sexual performance. First are foods that promote the production of a chemical in the body called nitric oxide. This is actually a gas that is released in minute amounts in the tissues of the penis, clitoris, and labia during sexual arousal. Nitric oxide is what opens up blood vessels, allowing for the swelling and increased sensitivity that come with sexual excitement.
Nitric oxide is made from an amino acid called arginine, which is found in particular abundance in the following foods:
- Cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna
- Soy products
Another class of nutrients important for sexual health are the bioflavonoids. These are plant compounds that work like antioxidants, scavenging by-products of the body's metabolism or harmful molecules resulting from exposure to environmental pollutants like smog, cigarette smoke, or pesticides. Fruit and vegetables are the main sources of bioflavonoids. The list below shows the types of bioflavonoids and some of the best food sources for each.
Anthocyanidins: berries, cherries, grapes, fruit skins, and true fruit juices
Catechins: true teas (not herbal teas)
Flavanones: citrus fruits
Flavones: whole grains, celery, parsley, and herbs
Flavonols: grapefruit, oranges, apple skins, berries, onions, endive, radishes, tomatoes, leeks, broccoli, and red wine.
This is just a sketch of what is a very big topic. But the basic message is clear: if you enjoy sex and would like to enjoy it more, or ensure that you’ll be enjoying for years to come, watch your weight, eat real, unprocessed foods, and focus on the types of foods I’ve mentioned in this blog. Bon appetite!