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Foods With Flavonoids May Help Some Men Ditch the Viagra

Image: Blueberries

Blueberries Matthew Mead / AP, file

Men may be able to reduce their risk of erectile dysfunction by consuming certain foods, including red and purple berries, citrus fruits and red wine. All of those foods are rich in certain flavonoids, which a new study suggests may help prevent the condition.

The study, which followed more than 25,000 men for more than two decades, also found that the risk of ED dropped when men ate more fruit overall, according to the report published Wednesday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Three Portions a Week

"Essentially these were quite moderate amounts of fruit, a little more than three portions a week was associated with a 14 percent reduction in risk," said the study's lead author Aedin Cassidy, a professor of nutrition at the University of East Anglia in the UK. "Most of the work we do relates to diet and heart disease. What's interesting is the same process causes erectile dysfunction."

The men described in the new report were enrolled in a larger study called the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Cassidy and her colleagues from Harvard University, included only men who at the outset in 1986 had not been diagnosed with ED, prostate, bladder or testicular cancer or cardiovascular disease.

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The researchers found that men who consumed the most foods containing flavonoids had a 10 percent reduced risk of ED compared to those who ate the least. The biggest effect was seen in men who consumed the highest amount of flavonoids and were physically active. Among those men, the risk of ED was cut by 21 percent.

To put those numbers in perspective, it's estimated that between 33 and 52 percent of middle-aged men suffer from ED, which means 33 to 52 men out of 100. Working with a round number, if 50 men in 100 would have suffered from ED, then a 10 percent drop would bring that down to 45 men in 100. A 21 percent drop would bring it down to 40 in 100.

This kind of study might offer men a chance to make a lifestyle change that doesn't involve taking pills, said Dr. Thomas Jaffe, an assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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What makes it especially convincing is that there has already been a mechanism worked out to explain how flavonoids help prevent heart disease, said Jaffe, who is unaffiliated with the new research.

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So, even though this is just an observational study — which means there is no proof that flavonoids are the factor that reduced the risk of ED — it still makes sense to consume more of them, since you'll still be protecting your heart.

Flavonoid Shakes

It's important to incorporate these foods into a regular diet, "a sustained intake, as part of a complete and healthy diet" said Madelyn Fernstrom, health and nutrition editor of NBC News. "It's not grabbing a handful of blueberries and hoping for an erection."

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Simply put, the study suggests men should "exercise, eat healthy and have a flavonoid shake every morning," Jaffe said. "Doing those things are not only going to be helpful as it relates to ED, but also as it relates to your heart."