How does our diet affect our hormones or sexual health?
Diet appears to have a definite effect on sexual function/dysfunction and hormones. Compared to other diets, a Mediterranean diet (fish, fats from olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains) appears protective against erectile dysfunction in men and sexual dysfunction in women. Additionally, a Western diet (usually rich in red and processed meats, dairy, refined grains, processed and artificial sweets, and salt, with minimal intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains) is associated with lower semen quality.
There are numerous studies of the effects of foods on sexual function, but one notable study is a 14-week trial with 83 men aged 18-35 which found that a diet supplemented with 60 g/day of mixed nuts (equal to about 40 almonds or hazelnuts, or 20 walnuts) helped improve erectile and sexual function.
Among a group of 189 young men, increased processed red meat intake was significantly related to a decreased sperm count and number of motile sperm. Also, high maternal beef consumption during pregnancy was associated with lower sperm concentration among their sons. Compared with men in their 30’s whose mothers reported no beef intake during pregnancy, men whose mothers consumed more than 7 beef meals per week had 24% lower sperm concentrations.
Studies of men with different diets have shown that a vegan diet is associated with small but significant increases in sex-hormone-binding globulin (which aids the transport of hormones through the body and, thus, regulation of hormone levels) and testosterone concentrations in comparison with meat-eaters.
- La J, Roberts NH, Yafi FA. Diet and Men’s Sexual Health. Sex Med Rev. 2018;6(1):54-68.
- Towe M, La J, El-Khatib F, Roberts N, Yafi FA, Rubin R. Diet and Female Sexual Health. Sex Med Rev. 2020;8(2):256-264.
- Bauer SR, Breyer BN, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Giovannucci EL, Kenfield SA. Association of Diet with Erectile Dysfunction Among Men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2021701.
- Mykoniatis I, Grammatikopoulou MG, Bouras E, et al. Sexual Dysfunction Among Young Men: Overview of Dietary Components Associated with Erectile Dysfunction. J Sex Med. 2018;15(2):176-182.
- Hill PB, Wynder EL. Effect of a vegetarian diet and dexamethasone on plasma prolactin, testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women. Cancer Lett. 1979;7(5):273-282.
- Salas-Huetos A, Muralidharan J, Galiè S, Salas-Salvadó J, Bulló M. Effect of Nut Consumption on Erectile and Sexual Function in Healthy Males: A Secondary Outcome Analysis of the FERTINUTS Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1372.
- Afeiche MC, Williams PL, Gaskins AJ, et al. Meat intake and reproductive parameters among young men. Epidemiology. 2014;25(3):323-330.
- Swan SH, Liu F, Overstreet JW, Brazil C, Skakkebaek NE. Semen quality of fertile US males in relation to their mothers’ beef consumption during pregnancy. Hum Reprod. 2007;22(6):1497-1502.
- Allen NE, Key TJ. The effects of diet on circulating sex hormone levels in men. Nutr Res Rev. 2000;13(2):159-184.