Nutrition/Exercise and Sexual Health (March 2022 Focus on Food Article)

couple holding hands

 
I know I know… you’re so uncomfortable. But let’s all be educated adults here and look at this topic factually. Sexual health IS health. Just like mental health IS health. Get used to looking at your body and mind as interconnected, and that there are many different facets to holistic health. We are human beings who thrive on connection and intimacy (all kinds of intimacy, not just the physical kind). If you need to know how sex can improve your health, don’t take my word for it, read more here. 

Quality of life is important. Understanding our bodies is important. 

Open up your eyes and mind and read on. I doubt anybody is looking (and if they are, GOOD).

medical health stats reading

The Straight Up Stats 

Erectile dysfunction causes have been studied. Let’s look at sexual dysfunction in men and women. At least 50% of men with diabetes develop erectile dysfunction (ED), with their symptoms appearing 10 to 15 years earlier than in the general population. Some men also experience decreased sexual desire, performance anxiety, retrograde ejaculation, and reduced testosterone levels.

The presence of elevated HgB A1c, neuropathy, or Coronary Vascular Disease can promote the development of ED. Obesity, diabetes, and metabolic diseases also are considered risk factors for sexual complications in both men and women, though studies involving women are less conclusive.

Approximately 40% to 60% of women with diabetes develop female sexual dysfunction (FSD), with postmenopausal women experiencing the highest number of symptoms, which include reduced desire, arousal/lubrication challenges, painful intercourse, and difficulty achieving orgasm. 

Additional Causes

Inflammation plays a role in the development of some sexual challenges. The inflammation present with visceral adiposity reduces the body’s level of nitric oxide, a compound that helps muscle tissue relax so blood can flow into the pelvic area. Sexual complications in both men and women also can be related to unhealthful diets, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol abuse, medication side effects (eg, antidepressants), and emotional/relationship issues. 

vegetable saladMediterranean Pattern of Eating

Mediterranean diet benefits have been glowing. Studies show the Mediterranean type of eating patterns can help many individuals with type 2 diabetes prevent, delay, or improve their sexual challenges. With the diet’s emphasis on consuming virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fiber, fish, and moderate amounts of wine, it’s associated with a lower risk and severity of ED.

Enjoying cholesterol lowering soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk will NOT lower testosterone. Did I just blow your mind there? Good. 

The diet also improves cholesterol and glucose metabolism and increases antioxidant defenses, and its arginine levels may raise the body’s nitric oxide activity (remember the increased blood flow? That’s the magic). Lycopene, found in tomatoes, contains anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent vascular dysfunction in ED, improve nitric oxide availability, and normalize aortic vasoconstriction. The diet also encourages individuals to be physically and socially active every day. See that holistic health thread there? You know I will keep repeating that. 

You Need to Pair Nutrition with Exercise

outdoor exercise with medicine ballDiet and exercise go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The food you eat will improve your sexual function, but it’s the exercise you get that helps adequate blood flow.

Cardiovascular exercise is essential for proper sexual function and can save your life! Erectile dysfunction is often a symptom of a lack of exercise. To get an erection, you need adequate blood flow. If you’re experiencing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, it can impair the quality of an erection. Erectile dysfunction is sometimes a sign of early heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women. By upping your cardio game (echem Studio SWEAT classes), you can reduce your chances of suffering from erectile dysfunction, thus also reduce your chances of suffering from heart disease.

Exercise also leads to better sex and usually makes you have happier moments. Fatigue and depression are among the most common culprits of sexual complaints. By exercising regularly, you’re improving your blood flow and increasing your stamina. You’re also releasing more endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body, similar to that of morphine.

I hope you found this article educational and supportive. If you’re finding any shame surrounding this topic, please talk to a mental health professional because it’s important to connect with all parts of your body. It will tell you important things!

On your team,

Miriam Jirari MPH, RDN, CPT
Certified Intuitive  Counselor
Studio SWEAT Dietitian

miriam focus on food image

Resources: 

  1. https://andytherd.com/2020/09/14/the-role-of-nutrition-in-mens-sexual-health/ 
  2. https://dame.com/how-nutrition-affects-your-sexual-health/ 
  3. https://bostondirecthealth.com/primary-care-blog/sexual-health-and-nutrition-how-one-impacts-the-other 
  4. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0421p46.shtml 
  5. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-link-between-diabetes-and-sexual-dysfunction/
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