What causes erectile dysfunction?

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is far more common that most think - 40% of men in their 40s experience erectile dysfunction, and it rises with age, with 70% of men over the age of 70 suffering this issue. Erectile dysfunction has many causes, from emotional and hormonal to purely physical mechanics.  

Our nutritionists have written about the best and worst foods for sex drive, and here we explain the causes of erectile dysfunction, who's affected and the best foods, lifestyle tips and supplements to overcome it.

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction - or impotence - is when a man isn't able to get or keep an erection. Erectile problems are very common and usually nothing to worry about - most men occasionally can't get or keep an erection.

Diet, lifestyle and supplements can all help alleviate causes of erectile dysfunction, however if the issue persists and causes concern, you should consult your GP.

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What causes erectile dysfunction?

Stress

Stress can interfere with the communication between your brain and your penis, contributing to problems getting and maintaining an erection. But having erectile dysfunction in itself can be a stressor so it can create a vicious cycle.

Discover 'The 6 big signs of stress' to help spot the warning signs from your body.

Emotional issues

Low self-esteem and having low confidence in the bedroom can be a cause of erectile dysfunction. Worrying about your performance or what you partner may think can cause stress in itself and lead to physical problems.

Poor blood flow

Poor blood flow to the penis can prevent erections or shorten the duration and strength of an erection, and poor blood flow can occur for a few reasons. Cholesterol build-up can narrow your blood vessels which prevents adequate blood flow to the penis, and blood vessels may also be damaged due to too much oxidative stress or smoking.

Learn more in 'How to improve poor blood circulation'. 

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Certain medications

Some medications can also interfere with the ability to get and maintain an erection. If you are on any prescribed medication and experiencing erectile dysfunction, chat to your GP to find out if the medication might be causing the issue.

Who is most affected?

The over 40s

Unfortunately age is a big factor. 40% of men in their 40s suffer from erectile dysfunction, and as age increases, so does the percentage of people who are affected. It is estimated that 70% of men over the age of 70 experience ED.

Those with obesity or diabetes

Obesity and diabetes can interfere with the health of the blood vessels leading to poor blood flow to the penis.

Smokers and those taking recreational drugs

Smokers and recreational drug users have a higher prevalence of erectile dysfunction than non-smokers and non-recreational drug users.

All ethnicities 

Studies show there is no difference in erectile dysfunction across different ethnicities.

Best foods for erectile dysfunction

Fibre

Fibre rich food is a great way to help clear any clogged up blood vessels and improve blood flow that is restricted by cholesterol. Fibre helps to sweep bile (which is made from cholesterol) out of the body, meaning the body must use its cholesterol stores to make more, ultimately decreasing total cholesterol levels. 

Learn more in 'Best and worst foods for sex drive'.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds provide unsaturated fatty acids which helps the balance of cholesterol in the body, and nuts and seeds provide the amino acid 'arginine' which directly influences blood flow and the health of the blood vessels. Healthy fats also improve blood viscosity which can improve blood flow. 

And don't forget, nuts and seeds are excellent for improving brain performance

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains 'flavonoids' which directly improve the health of the blood vessels, resulting in better blood flow, including to the penis.  Dark chocolate is also one of our 5 recommended foods for boosting your mood

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Beetroot

Beetroot contains a high level of plant nitrates which are beneficial for blood flow. The plant nitrates in beetroot help to reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow across the whole body.  

Discover our delicious beetroot hummus recipe

Spicy foods

Some studies have shown that consuming foods with chilli increase testosterone levels in the body and help with getting an erection. So if you want to spice up the bedroom, make sure you spice up your plate!

Best supplements for erectile dysfunction

There are a number of probiotics, herbs and vitamins that can help address the causes of erectile dysfunction. 

Probiotics

Some types of probiotics help to breakdown cholesterol in bile. These probiotics are called 'bile-salt-hydrolase active bacteria'. Breaking down the bile in your cholesterol means that bile cannot be re-absorbed, and the body has to make fresh bile out of your cholesterol stores, ultimately decreasing cholesterol in the body and improving blood flow

Learn more in 'What are probiotics'.

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Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a great stress regulator and can help with the stress that’s contributing towards erectile dysfunction, or the stress that is caused by it.  Ashwagandha helps lower your cortisol levels, which is your stress hormone. Cortisol and testosterone are made by the same substances in the body, so lowering cortisol levels allows more of the substances to be made into testosterone, and improving testosterone levels has a positive effect on sperm count and motility. 

Learn more in:

Zinc

Zinc helps to balance testosterone levels, helping to correct any imbalance which may contributing towards the problem of erectile dysfunction. Studies indicate that Zinc supplementation can correct a testosterone deficiency in men.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential component of collagen – the protein matrix that keeps your blood vessels flexible. Vitamin C encourages the maintenance of collagen which will help to improve blood flow to the penis.

Learn more in 'The truth about collagen' from nutritionists and which foods can support your skin health. 

Lifestyle tips for reducing erectile dysfunction

There are some simple lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk and frequency of erectile dysfunction.

Exercise

Exercise helps to reduce obesity, manage insulin resistance and gets the blood flowing. A decrease in body fat will increase the ratio of testosterone to oestrogen, helping with any hormone imbalances that may be contributing towards the problem.

Exercising with your partner is also great bonding time for the both of you, and you're more likely to get fitter if you have a work-out buddy. 

Discover the impact of exercise on sleep.

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De-stress

Stress relieving techniques such as meditation and yoga can help to rewire your brain in the long run to help you deal with stress and relieve anxiety.  You might enjoy our blog 'How adrenal glands affect stress'.

Review your work-life balance and make adjustments to decrease stress levels. Counselling and other types of therapy can be useful. If you are the partner of someone suffering from ED, helping them to de-stress provides major benefits to both of you. Agree on modifications that can be made to your lifestyle and routine, and support each other when life feels like it's getting too much. Take time off work together if need be so you can work through issues and relax together. 

Stop smoking

Smoking is bad news all-round for health and although it can be difficult to quit, it really is worth it from a health perspective and for erectile dysfunction. You don’t have to quit alone, there is lots of support available.

Stay positive

Both partners need to stay positive. Erectile dysfunction doesn’t have to last for ever, and with both of you supporting each other, the journey back to health is so much easier. Think of the excellent health improvements you will both make, and keep track of the positives, both in the bedroom and outside of it.

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