Jan. 13, 2016 -- Eating berries and citrus fruit is linked with a lower risk of men having problems with getting and keeping an erection, according to a new study.
What these foods have in common is they're very high in flavonoids, substances that are found in almost all fruit and vegetables. This diverse group of chemicals are largely responsible for the eye-catching colors in our fruit and veggies.
In recent years scientists have been examining whether the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of flavonoids might help explain the health benefits tied to eating them. Some studies have linked them with helping prevent cancer and improving heart health.
The latest study by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. and Harvard University examined whether foods that have flavonoids could help prevent erectile dysfunction. They concentrated on six main types of commonly eaten flavonoids and found that three in particular -- anthocyanins, flavanones, and flavones -- are beneficial.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
"It's all about inadequate blood supply and impaired blood flow," says lead researcher Professor Aedín Cassidy from UEA, "and what's really interesting about the flavonoids is that there's clinical trial data and also lab data suggesting that they can improve blood pressure, they can improve blood flow, and make our arteries more flexible."
The researchers looked at data from 25,096 professional men who enrolled in a U.S. health study in 2000. At the start of the study the participants rated whether they could get an erection strong enough to have sex with, and rated this again in 2004 and 2008. They were also asked to rate their ability to have an erection in past years as far back as 1986.
The men also recorded their eating patterns every 4 years.
Over the course of 10 years, 35.6% of men said they had trouble getting an erection for the first time. But those who had a diet rich in anthocyanins, flavones, and flavanones were less likely to experience the condition, the research found.
Berries and Citrus Fruits
Cassidy says the lower risk for ED was linked with eating any fruit, but some were better than others. "When we looked at specific fruits, the greatest benefits were from berries, [which contain] flavonoids called anthocyanins that are responsible for that lovely blue-red color you get in berries and in eggplants.”
The next most effective were citrus flavanones, she says.
You can get flavonoids from strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, red wine, apples, pears, cherries and citrus products.
The researchers caution that their study was observational, based on data drawn from an established health study, rather than a clinical trial where cause and effect are measured under strict conditions.
Eat More Fruit
"Just incorporating a few extra portions of fruit, particularly berries and citrus in the diet, will not only benefit your sexual health, but in the longer term would offer protection against having a heart attack," Cassidy says.
Commenting on the findings in an email, Claire Pettitt, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says: "Foods containing flavonoids, i.e. plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables, should make up a large part of our diets, as we already know they provide many health benefits such as improving cardiovascular function and heart health, reducing risk of cancer, and antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory properties, and improvements in blood flow to the brain which can lead to improved cognitive function.
"The study also showed that the benefits achieved from consuming flavonoids matched the benefit already known to be gained from increased exercise and that in fact, a combination of a healthy diet containing a variety of flavonoids, and regular exercise, had a cumulative effect.
"This research really supports the recommendation to have fruits and vegetables every day as part of a healthy balanced diet and to be regularly physically active."