Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/21/2020
Erectile dysfunction or ED is the inability to achieve and maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory sex. It’s a condition that affects millions of men but it comes with such a stigma that many who experience it fail to seek treatment.
The truth is erectile dysfunction is very common — it affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States alone. Not only is it very common, but it is also very treatable.
Treating erectile dysfunction may require a multifaceted approach because it is often the result of a combination of different factors. Physical factors like body weight, blood pressure, and heart health play a role in determining your sexual function, as do psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Even if you’re in excellent physical condition, erectile dysfunction can be caused by certain substances and medications.
In short, the underlying cause(s) of erectile dysfunction can vary widely from one man to another, so treating ED is not a one-size-fits-all kind of situation. For some men, treating ED is a matter of addressing physical or psychological risk factors while, for others, taking prescription medications like Viagra® or Cialis® is the way to go.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of science-backed methods for improving erectile dysfunction.
If you want to achieve stronger and longer-lasting erections, the first step is to identify the underlying cause of your erectile dysfunction. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the factors contributing to your sexual dysfunction then take a moment to explore the treatment options.
Sometimes the simplest changes can have the most significant effects when it comes to health and wellness. In terms of resolving erectile dysfunction, making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight could have a significant impact.
Achieving and maintaining an erection requires healthy blood flow, so it makes sense that following a diet that supports heart health might have a positive impact on your erections. After all, erectile dysfunction has been identified as a potential sign of heart disease.
A 2010 study revealed that a Mediterranean diet — a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish — may be correlated with a lower incidence of erectile dysfunction in men. In addition to consuming heart-healthy foods, you may want to avoid foods that contribute to heart disease like fatty, sugary, processed, and high-calorie foods.
Obesity is closely linked with serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, so it should come as no surprise that being overweight can affect your erectile function.
Waist circumference is often used as a predictor of obesity-related health risks and can also be used as an indicator of sexual health status. In a 2017 study, 74.7 percent of men with abdominal obesity had some degree of erectile dysfunction.
Not only does being overweight increase your risk for erectile dysfunction, but it may decrease the efficacy of ED drugs, especially if you have diabetes. In a 1999 study, only 56 percent of men diagnosed with diabetes-induced ED showed improvements when taking Viagra, compared with just 10 percent who took placebo.
While the Viagra made a sizeable difference in erectile function, it was much less effective.
Regular exercise helps support overall health and may improve cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and poor circulation. By including regular exercise in your routine, you may find your erectile function improves as well.
In a 2011 article published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Science, researchers found that several studies of aerobic exercise and ED showed a clear improvement in ED symptoms in men who exercised regularly. The authors of the article concluded that aerobic exercise can “successfully treat ED in selected patients with arteriogenic ED” — a form of erectile dysfunction caused by poor arterial blood supply.
The good news is you don’t have to put a lot of time into exercising to reduce your risk for developing ED. For most adults, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise is sufficient.
When you don’t get a good night’s sleep it can affect your mental and physical health. You may be surprised to learn there’s also a connection between sleep deprivation and erectile dysfunction.
A 2014 review published in The World Journal of Men’s Health highlights research regarding sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction. One connection made in the review is the link between chronic insufficient sleep and decreased testosterone levels. Because testosterone plays an important role in sexual function, authors of the review suggest that chronic sleep restriction could impact both health and sexual function.
If you’re suffering from insomnia or other sleep issues, talk to your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options or try our Sleep Gummy Vitamins, enriched with sleep-supporting supplements like melatonin, chamomile, and L-theanine.
Chronic stress can be damaging to your health but it can also affect your erectile function. Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol which helps regulate blood pressure and circulation. Chronically high cortisol levels could make it more difficult to achieve an erection.
Not only can managing your stress levels help reduce cortisol production, but it may help with psychological factors impacting your erectile function as well.
The first step in reducing stress is to identify things that trigger stress and take steps to protect yourself. Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises may help as well. For example, meditation and yoga have been found to provide significant benefits for stress relief.
It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health, but it could also have a negative impact on your erectile function. You may also want to moderate your intake of alcohol.
Long-term use of tobacco products including cigarettes has been shown to restrict blood flow which may make it more difficult for you to achieve or maintain an erection. The primary culprit is nicotine, a vasoconstrictor that reduces blood flow.
Even in healthy men, your testosterone level begins to decline once you reach a certain age. Testosterone levels generally peak around age 17 and start to decline right around age 30, usually by about one percent per year.
Low testosterone levels have been associated with erectile dysfunction, so if you’re over the age of 30 and struggling with ED it may be worth having your levels tested. Just keep in mind that while erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of low-T, it doesn’t necessarily mean low testosterone levels cause ED.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns and consider all of the treatment options available before settling on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Though TRT may boost testosterone levels, it comes with a high risk for side effects and it is generally only recommended as a short-term treatment.
The Internet is full of so-called herbal remedies for erectile dysfunction, but it’s important to take these claims with a grain of salt. Though certain supplements may provide health benefits, most herbal supplements for ED are lacked in scientific evidence.
Though male enhancement pills and other herbal remedies for ED are unlikely to live up to the lofty claims they make, certain vitamin supplements could benefit your sexual function.
The thing to remember when it comes to taking supplements for erectile dysfunction is that ED supplements are unlikely to cure your erectile dysfunction on their own. That being said, if a nutritional deficiency is a contributing factor in your erectile dysfunction, taking supplements to correct the deficiency could help resolve your ED.
Vitamins B3, B9 and D have all been linked to circulation, testosterone, or erectile dysfunction in scientific research. Most studies provide limited support for their use in improving sexual performance, however.
If you’re concerned nutritional deficiencies or other dietary factors may be contributing to your ED, your best bet is to speak to your healthcare provider before taking supplements.
The first line of treatment for erectile dysfunction is a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors. Some drugs in this class include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), and Levitra (vardenafil).
Phosphodiesterase 5 is an enzyme found in the walls of blood vessels. It affects the way cells communicate with the body and regulates blood flow. By blocking the action of this enzyme, PDE5 inhibitors help relax the blood vessels to increase blood flow.
Though some of these drugs were initially developed to treat pulmonary hypertension (like Viagra), it was discovered they had the added benefit of improving erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and Cialis are only available by prescription, so you’ll need to talk to your healthcare provider to get them. Though these medications all work in the same way, their effectiveness is a little different. Sildenafil (generic Viagra), the active ingredient in Viagra works for three to four hours while tadalafil, the active ingredient in Cialis, lasts up to 36 hours.
Talking about your struggle with erectile dysfunction can be difficult but it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Internalizing your struggle might end up making matters worse and you may just find that opening up to your partner creates a deeper sense of intimacy. At the very least, your partner deserves a chance to offer their support.
Talking to your partner is also an important step if relationship issues are affecting your sexual function. Relationship problems can affect the level of trust or attraction you have for your partner, so talking through those issues could help remove some of the stress that may be contributing to your erectile dysfunction.
If you’re struggling with psychological issues like anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem and worry about the effects on your sexual function, it may be time to speak to a therapist.
It might feel awkward to share the details of your love life with a stranger, but a licensed therapist is trained to handle these challenges. In fact, you may have an easier time talking to someone who can view your issues objectively than speaking to your partner.
Regardless of what issues you’re trying to address, research indicates that about 75 percent of people who engage in talk therapy receive some kind of benefit. Talking to a therapist could help you work out issues with performance anxiety, low self-confidence, or other mental or emotional challenges to improve your sexual function.
If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
ED is a common condition in men and your healthcare provider can help you determine the underlying cause of your sexual issues. Once you have a better understanding of the factors contributing to your erectile dysfunction, you can try some of the methods above to address it.
To learn more about this condition, check out our complete guide to erectile dysfunction including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.