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Protect Your Erection: 11 Tips

How to avoid erectile dysfunction and protect your potency.
By David Freeman
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Erectile dysfunction (ED) becomes more common as men age. But it is not necessarily a normal part of aging.  How can you avoid ED? Here's what experts told WebMD.

1. Watch what you eat.

A diet that's bad for a man's heart is also not good for his ability to have erections.

Research has shown that the same eating patterns that can cause heart attacks due to restricted blood flow in the coronary arteries can also impede blood flow to and within the penis. The blood flow is needed for the penis to become erect. Diets that include very few fruits and vegetables along with lots of fatty, fried, and processed foods can contribute to decreased blood circulation throughout the body. 

Anything that is bad for a man's heart is also bad for his penis, says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology and director of the male sexual health program at New York University Langone Medical Center.

Recent studies show that ED is relatively uncommon among men who eat a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, heart-healthy fats including nuts and olive oil, fish, and wine, particularly red.

"The link between the Mediterranean diet and improved sexual function has been scientifically established," says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.

Being overweight can bring many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, which can cause nerve damage throughout the body. If the diabetes affects the nerves that supply the penis, ED can result.

3. Avoid high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

High cholesterol or high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, including those that bring blood to the penis. Eventually, this may lead to ED.

Make sure your doctor checks your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  You might also want to check your blood pressure between doctor visits. Some stores and fire stations offer free screenings. Blood pressure monitors are also sold for home use.

If your cholesterol or blood pressure is out of whack, get it treated.

Blood pressure drugs can make it hard to get an erection. But doctors say many cases of ED that get blamed on these drugs are actually caused by arterial damage resulting from high blood pressure (also called hypertension).

4. Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.

There is no evidence that mild or even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for erectile function, says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urology professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. But chronic heavy drinking can cause liver damage, nerve damage, and other conditions -- such as  interfering with the normal balance of male sex hormone levels -- that can lead to ED.

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