It’s been happening at the Pritikin Longevity Center since 1975, when the heart-health resort first opened.
“Just about every man, and many women, who walk in our doors walk out feeling quite a bit more romantic,” smiles Pritikin’s Associate Medical Director Danine Fruge, MD.
Scientifically, it makes sense. Studies published over the last several years have found that lifestyles and foods that promote heart health, such as the Pritikin Program, also promote sexual health.
“Gentleman, it’s this simple,” sums up Dr. Fruge. “What’s good for the heart is also good for the penis.”
In one 2011 study,1 for example, Mayo Clinic researchers reviewed six previous clinical trials involving a total of 740 middle-aged men. Four of the trials focused on lifestyle changes like food and fitness; the remaining two analyzed the effects of heart medications.
Overall, men with erectile dysfunction (ED) who either made lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating healthier foods or who took medications to reduce cardiovascular risks like high cholesterol were 2.5 times more likely to see improvements in sexual function than those who did not attempt to make heart-healthy changes.
“The common denominator here is blood flow,” explains Pritikin physician Dr. Fruge. Decreased blood flow to the heart, the result of poor lifestyle habits that damage arteries, can cause a heart attack. Decreased blood flow to the brain may lead to a stroke. Decreased blood flow to the penis may cause erectile dysfunction.
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In fact, ED is often described as a harbinger of heart problems because ED tends to show up only about three to five years before cardiovascular-related problems like heart attacks, heart procedures, or strokes start occuring.
In one 10-year study2 of 1,402 men from Minnesota, for example, scientists found that those with ED were 80% more likely to develop heart disease compared to men who did not have ED. Of particular concern were younger men. Guys in their 40s with ED were twice as likely to suffer heart attacks and other heart problems.
Foods That Promote Sexual Health – Whole Foods
Focus on whole, naturally-fiber-rich foods that are low or moderately low in calorie density, such as the foods on the Pritikin Eating Plan, like vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), and whole grains, plus nonfat dairy foods, fish, and very lean meat,” recommends Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin.
“Not only are these foods very low in artery-damaging saturated fat, they’re also foods that, for both men and women, do the best job of helping you shed excess weight without going hungry.
“Losing body fat is very important for sexual health,” explains dietitian Kimberly Gomer. “Losing excess weight means you’re significantly less likely to develop conditions like type 2 diabetes, which can damage arteries throughout the body.”
The Pritikin Eating Plan, plus the program’s daily exercise regime, has also been found in several studies, both human3and animal,4 to increase nitric oxide, a beneficial chemical for sexual function.
“Sexual arousal causes nerves from the brain running to the penis to be activated and release nitric oxide. The released nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, resulting in an increased blood flow into the penis, causing an erection,” explains UCLA researcher Dr. James Barnard in his recently published book: Understanding Common Diseases and the Value of the Pritikin Eating and Exercise Program.
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A lack of nitric oxide production and/or function, writes Dr. Barnard, results in ED. Two common drugs used to treat ED, Viagra and Cialis, work by increasing available nitric oxide. But healthy food and fitness like the Pritikin Program also increase nitric oxide, and should enhance the medications’ effects, or maybe even negate the need for them.
Indeed, the Mayo Clinic meta-analysis of six clinical trials found that those men with ED who starting eating better, exercising, and losing weight responded much better to the ED drugs they were taking.
Foods That Promote Sexual Health – Less Salty Foods
For a better sex life, it’s also a good idea to get into the habit of eating foods that are not full of salt. High-salt diets lead to high blood pressure, which often leads to medications, like beta blockers, that can cause impotence.
The less salt you eat, the less medication you likely need.
“Freedom from high blood pressure drugs, which we often observe here at Pritikin, often means freedom from impotence,” notes Dr. Fruge.
Research5 has found that people often get completely off their hypertension medication while at Pritikin, or have their dosages substantially reduced. “Getting rid of salt, eating healthier overall, and exercising daily often leads to healthy, normal blood pressure – and a healthier sex life,” says Dr. Fruge.
Exercise That Promotes Sexual Health
As early as 2003, researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that a lifestyle factor strongly associated with a healthy sex life was regular physical activity.6 Tracking more than 32,000 men, the scientists found that those who exercised aerobically, such as brisk walking, jogging, or running, at least 30 minutes daily were 30% less likely to have erection problems than men who participated in little or no exercise.
“It makes biological sense that exercise is beneficial,” observes Dr. Fruge. “Impotence is largely caused by insufficient blood flow to the penis, and we know exercise can significantly improve blood flow.”
Stopping Smoking Can Improve Sexual Health
Smoking cigarettes can also damage blood vessels and foul up blood flow to the penis. Moreover, nicotine makes blood vessels contract, hampering blood circulation.
Managing Stress Can Improve Sexual Health
Stressful events boost levels of stress hormones like adrenaline, which, like smoking and other poor lifestyle choices, can makes blood vessels contract and cause not only problems like high blood pressure and heart disease but also sexual dysfunction.
“Anything in the way of a healthy lifestyle that we, both men and women, can do to ease the negative stress in our lives will very likely improve the sex in our lives,” says psychologist Dr. Coral Arvon, Director of Behavorial Health and Wellness at Pritikin.
In her healthy-mind classes and personal consultations at Pritikin, Dr. Coral teaches a variety of stress-reducing techniques, from cognitive behavioral restructuring to simple five-minute exercises in deep, restorative breathing.
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“What we’ve found here at Pritikin,” sums up Dr. Fruge, “is that a better sex life is a common and certainly wonderful side effect in addition to the many other great things that happen here, like blood pressure falling, body fat disappearing, blood sugar levels declining, and energy levels soaring.
“Adopting a healthier lifestyle like Pritikin not only makes you look sexier, it helps you feel sexier, too.”