Men: Eat plant-based. Have better sex.
Did you know eating plant-based meals also have an added benefit of spicing up your sex life? That’s right– especially for men suffering from the effects of erectile dysfunction.
One Meal a Day wanted to learn more and spread the love, so we sat down with Aaron Spitz, M.D., Urologist and author of The Penis Book to get his take.
So, what’s it like to be the author of The Penis Book? Do people confide in you at dinner parties or run away?
When people first find out they almost always laugh, and that is exactly the reaction I hope for. Laughter lightens the mood, and makes us more receptive to learn. After all, as Chaucer once said, “Many a true word is spoken in jest.”
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is pretty common — up to 1/3rd of men over 40–yet it’s a taboo subject. What are the leading causes of ED?
The most common reason a man may experience a problem having an erection is a problem with blood flow due to narrowing of the arteries. Many conditions can lead to poor blood flow, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, but we can slow the process down. A whole food, plant-based diet and regular exercise can prevent many of these diseases. It’s very important not to ignore erectile dysfunction.
Nerves are also critical for erections, and certain diseases or injuries can impair nerves that control blood flow to the penis or that give it sensation. Spinal cord injury, neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, surgeries in the pelvis (especially for prostate cancer), and medications such as antidepressants can all interfere with a man’s performance.
Also, low testosterone is a common culprit. Many men don’t realize they are running on empty, lacking this fuel of desire. Some medical conditions and medications can lower testosterone. Cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol in excess are all buzzkills for your penis. Did you know a surprising cause of erectile dysfunction is lack of sleep? If you don’t snooze, you lose—testosterone. Night shift workers and many of us that simply short change our sleep are at risk of lower levels of testosterone and some trouble staying “up” at night.
What about emotional or psychological issues?
That leads to the most common cause of ED known as “performance anxiety” in which a guy has some trouble generally for a temporary reason. The next time, panic can set in, “I wonder if I am going to have difficulty LIKE I DID THE LAST TIME.” This releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” chemical that gets us ready for danger. It increases our heart rate, expands our lungs, pumps up our muscles—BUT—diverts blood AWAY from the penis. This then becomes a vicious cycle.
You see thousands of patients with this issue. What kind of treatments do you prescribe?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A man can end his ED problems permanently with a plant-based diet and regular exercise. If there are more reinforcements needed, fortunately there are safe and effective treatments to increase blood flow to the penis.
The most common treatment is Viagra. Other pills include: Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, Stendra and the generic form of Viagra, known as Sildenafil. These pills all work the same way by increasing the amount of blood that flows into the penis by increasing the amount of nitric oxide (NO).
Plants are also a great source of Nitric Oxide and exercise helps it as well, but these pills can be more potent.
"Most men intuitively know that vegetables are ‘anti-cancer,’ but not as many know them as ’pro-boner.’"
Psychological and behavioral causes of erectile dysfunction can also be treated, but they are much better addressed by therapists with expertise in sexual behavioral medicine. There are also specific techniques that men or couples can use to decrease performance anxiety or overcome other psychological obstacles.
Is there a specific patient success story you can share that might illustrate a typical ED problem and solution?
I had a patient, “Richard,” who was a successful entrepreneur and was paying way more attention to his business than to his body. He had been hospitalized for a heart attack and I was called in because he was having trouble urinating. After I got to know him, he revealed he had not had sex with his wife for almost a year due to trouble in the bedroom. At first he struggled to maintain his erection, but as time went on, he couldn’t even get up to start with. It turns out his erection problem was really an early warning sign for his heart disease as is so often the case.
He required medications for his heart disease, but he took my advice and started to focus on his health, getting more sleep and exercise and also went vegan. In the short term, he needed medication. After about a year, he was off most of his medications, only using the Viagra on special occasions or “just in case.” He had also lost some weight and his pre-diabetes faded away.
Full disclosure, I’ve seen you in the upcoming documentary, The Game Changers. Can you talk a little bit about what you shared in that film?
I am so honored to be a part of The Game Changers, which features elite vegan athletes. These amazing individuals show that you don’t need meat for your muscles.
In The Game Changers we conducted an experiment to see if one meal could affect a man’s erection. We had three very healthy young men, elite college athletes, agree to put their manhood to the test. They weren’t vegan, but they agreed to eat a plant-based meal one night for the study. We used an instrument that is applied to the penis and kept on overnight. While the subject is asleep, he will naturally make erections on and off throughout the night and this device can record the number, duration and fullness of these erections on a graph that looks sort of like a richter scale.
We gave the guys high-quality, organic beef, chicken and pork burritos the first night and pork and then measured their erections while they slept. Then we fed them plant-based burritos the second night. The results were absolutely amazing! The vegan diet resulted in much more frequent, longer lasting and harder erections in all three athletes. The results of this erection sleep study will be a real wake up call to men of any age.
Why don’t more doctors and patients suffering from ED know about the benefits of a plant-based diet?
I think that many doctors are unaware of the benefits of a plant-based diet. It’s only been until recently that this information has started to appear in medical literature, so there are many generations of doctors, including me, who never were exposed during their training.
Many of my colleagues accept the information with an open mind. Like me at first, they simply didn’t realize how much new, good science is out there. My most zealous converts are patients or other doctors who are scared for their life. The patients who actually get diagnosed with prostate cancer or who have a close call tend to go vegan without much hesitation. Interestingly, most men intuitively know that vegetables are “anti-cancer,” but not as many know them as “pro-boner.”
One of my staunchest critics is a sports medicine doctor in my community. He is exceptionally well read on nutrition and fitness and trains elite athletes as part of his practice. He is also a world ranked triathlete. I have been encouraging him to go plant based for many years but he always finds this or that study to cast doubt on it. But he had the opportunity to see the world premier of The Game Changers and as soon as the movie ended he said, “I’m going vegan now!” and he still is.
How can people talk openly about ED, an issue that can be so vulnerable for men and couples? Can you suggest any resources or how to start a conversation?
Although sex is a difficult topic for people to discuss, it’s become a lot easier. Nonetheless, it is still a topic that touches a person at their core. Sexual health is not only a physical concern but it is intimately intertwined with one’s self confidence and spills over into the roles we take on outside the bedroom. Men and their partners often blame themselves for something that is not a choice and not something they can simply will themselves out of.
Getting the conversation started is difficult even with someone as trusted and confidential as a doctor. I am a urologist, so sexual health is one of the things that I am there for, but even so, many patients hesitate to share with me. The shyness or shame is a result of lack of knowledge, but once men and their partners are aware of the causes and the successful treatments available, they can go on to enjoy their sex lives.
This is why I wrote The Penis Book which is a comprehensive explanation of how men’s sexual health all works, and what to do when it doesn’t. It’s really a great way to get the conversation started, but even more, get questions answered. It’s filled with reliable science– written in a light hearted way—a little sugar to help the medicine go down.
Finally, men or couples shouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor, especially a urologist to have a face-to-face with an expert.