Chocolate-covered strawberries and a full goblet of Cabernet, often paired with Marvin Gaye softly crooning from the stereo, have set the mood for incalculable Valentine's evenings, but new research suggests that some of these romantic standbys can also benefit long-term love lives. Habitual consumption of flavonoid-rich foods—red wine, fruits, vegetables and tea—may reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction.
Flavonoids don't sound sexy—they're polyphenolic, organic compounds found in plants that find their way into a range of foods. The collaborative study from the University of East Anglia and Harvard University zeroed in on fruit—and fruit-derived products like wine—as nature's best answer to Viagra. Regularly eating fruit and fruit-derived products, the researchers found, lowered the incidence of erectile dysfunction by 14 percent, and certain fare—red wine, strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears and citrus—reduced the risk reduction even further, by 19 percent.
Published in the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study focused largely on red wine, berries and citrus fruits because of their high concentrations of exceptionally beneficial flavonoids—anthocyanins, flavanones and flavones—and their ubiquity in the typical American diet.
"When we looked at all the different flavonoids, it was the [anthocyanins, which are] responsible for the powerful red/blue coloration of plants, that were associated with a reduction in risk," lead researcher Aedín Cassidy of England's University of East Anglia told Wine Spectator. She singled out red wine, which gets its color from the anthocyanins found in the skins of red grapes, as a particularly "good dietary source of these flavonoids." The study also pinpointed citrus fruits and their high concentration of performance-enhancing flavanones as buffers against impotence.
People can reap the sexual health benefits of these antioxidant-rich foods and drink from just a few regular portions, the study found. The team looked at data from more than 25,000 male participants who recorded both dietary habits and erectile function at fixed intervals between 1986 and 2010. Men who consumed three or more servings of flavonoid-rich fruit and wine per week were least likely to experience erectile dysfunction, with men under 70 seeing the greatest benefits.
Impotence frequency decreased even further when red wine drinkers and grapefruit enthusiasts also happened to be physically active. These amorists were 21 percent less likely to experience sexual health problems than their peers.
The findings present compelling dietary guidance for the hundreds of millions of men suffering from performance issues, but the study's significance also extends far beyond the bedroom. "Erectile dysfunction is often an early barometer of poor vascular function and offers a critical opportunity to intervene and prevent cardiovascular disease, heart attack and even death," explained Cassidy.
She added that men with erectile dysfunction face an immediate problem and tend to be highly motivated to make lifestyle changes. When those changes are made, by eating more blueberries, switching from IPA to Merlot or choosing the stairs over the elevator, both sexual stamina and cardiovascular health improve.
To keep your heart pumping and your physical love life in tip-top shape, look for wines with high levels of anthocyanins like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Aglianico and Touriga Nacional. Choose young bottles over old, as anthocyanin levels decrease as wine ages. And, of course, gentlemen, don't forget to cue up "Sexual Healing."