Erectile dysfunction doesn’t just put your sex life at risk, but also your heart. It hits on a man’s physical, mental, and emotional health, essentially causing impotence. More than 30 million men in the United States struggle with sustaining an erection. It can also hurt the heart, putting these men at a higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. Grecian researchers wanted to know if there was a diet that could help change the outcome of that risk, and presented their findings at the annual meeting of the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging in Austria.

"Erectile dysfunction is not a symptom of aging,” said Dr. Athanasios Angelis in a press release. “It is a bad sign from the body that something is wrong with the vasculature. In 80 percent of cases erectile dysfunction is caused by vascular problems, and is a warning that patients are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke."

Researchers examined 75 men with an average age of 56, who were diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. The patients who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet had hearts and vascular systems in worse shape, when compared to those who ate foods from the diet regularly. The patients came from a hospital in Athens, Greece, which means their access to food from the Mediterranean was readily available.

"The Mediterranean diet is associated with lower cardiovascular events and could be a way to help erectile dysfunction patients lower their risk,” Angelis said. “We wanted to investigate whether patients with erectile dysfunction who follow this diet have less vascular and cardiac damage."

A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts; legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils; olive oil, fish, and mainly unrefined grains. But saturated fats, dairy products, meat, and poultry should only be eaten infrequently, essentially seen as treats. After skipping out on some favorites on the low-intake list, you can still indulge in a regular-but-moderate intake of alcohol, specifically wine, with meals. It thins the blood safely while providing benefits through the antioxidant resveratrol.

Adopting a Mediterranean diet not only provides weight-loss benefits, but also keeps your genes healthier for longer. In another new study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital worked with Harvard Medical School to study how the diet worked in nearly 5,000 women. Their study found women on the diet simply aged better. Now that it's shown to decrease risk of heart attack and stroke in men with erectile dysfunction, the Mediterranean cuisine should be seen as a medical treatment instead of a fad diet.

When men have erectile dysfunction and don’t follow a healthy Mediterranean diet, they’re likely to experience vascular and cardiac damage in their heart. Arteries transfer vital blood to the heart and begin to stiffen when the heart isn’t functioning properly, which may explain why patients with erectile dysfunction have more heart attacks and strokes. Dr. Angelis also advises patients to stop smoking and start exercising to encourage healthy levels of blood pressure and lipids throughout the body.

"Really simple changes in our diet may help a lot, for example using olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fat,” Angelis said. “If someone doesn't have the money to buy some of the foods they can substitute them with others, for example nuts are a good source of monounsaturated fat. Sometimes it's difficult to adopt something if you consider that it's part of a prescription, but the Mediterranean diet is not a prescription, it's a lifestyle. It's about having an awareness of what foods are healthy or unhealthy."

Source: Angelis A. European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging. 2014.