Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/1/2023
Here’s what to know about eating keto and erectile dysfunction (ED).
If you’re looking to lose weight, your new and updated diet will almost certainly have restrictions and foods to cut out completely. The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is no exception.
A popular diet that prioritizes high fat intake and almost completely cuts out carbs, the keto diet is a popular diet for weight loss. As with any new diet, you might wonder about the effects it might have on your sex life.
Whether you realize it or not, diet has a big impact on sex drive. So, what effects does a keto diet have on libido? Can keto cause erectile dysfunction or another type of sexual dysfunction?
We’ll explore whether there’s a connection between keto and erectile dysfunction and how to know if you’re experiencing ED from your low-carb diet.
Is there any connection between ketosis and erectile dysfunction? To answer this, we first need to explain what ED is.
Erectile dysfunction is when you’re unable to get a firm-enough erection or maintain an erection long enough for sexual activity.
Getting an erection may seem straightforward, but it’s a complex process involving the nerves around your penis, the network of blood vessels and your brain. Erections happen when you feel sexually aroused, either from mental or physical stimulation.
Nerves inside your penis release neurotransmitters that cause the smooth muscle of your blood vessels to relax, widening the diameter of your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the erectile tissue inside your penis. This increased blood flow is what gives your erection its size and firmness.
Various factors can cause ED, including mental health, certain lifestyle choices and physical well-being. Physical health factors that might cause erectile dysfunction affect blood flow and nerve function, such as heart disease, clogged arteries, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Other common physical causes of ED? Obesity, which causes changes in blood pressure, body composition and cholesterol.
Type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder, may also cause erectile dysfunction, leading to artery and nervous system damage that lowers blood flow to your penis and affects your ability to feel any physical sensation.
But what’s the connection between keto and erectile dysfunction, and what effects does a keto diet have on your sex drive? Keep reading to find out.
The keto diet involves eating a large amount of fat, a moderate protein intake and severely restricting your intake of carbohydrates.
Most variations of the diet involve consuming about 55 to 60 percent of your calories from fats, 30 to 35 percent from protein and the other five to 10 percent from carbs. Many ketogenic diets explicitly cap carbohydrates at about 50 grams per day.
The idea behind the keto diet is that by restricting carbohydrate intake, the body switches over to a breakdown of fat into ketones as its primary source of energy — a state called nutritional ketosis or simply ketosis.
The keto diet isn’t without its downsides. There are numerous side effects, including nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, constipation, vomiting and difficulty exercising.
There are also some practical concerns, such as the difficulty of complying with the diet over the long term, the need to monitor renal function and the often significant financial cost of prioritizing high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets all day, every day.
However, keto diets are effective for weight loss in many people, particularly those who are obese.
While there isn’t too much research on any connection between eating keto and erectile dysfunction, there may be some effects of ketosis on sexual health and function, although the research is also limited.
A person’s sex drive is largely dependent on their testosterone levels, and low levels can reduce libido. But research looking at how keto affects sex hormones isn’t consistent.
A very small clinical trial suggests a keto diet lowers testosterone. Meanwhile, other studies have found that it may actually increase the hormone.
An older 2014 study followed participants who ate a keto-style diet while others followed a standard Western diet. At the end of 11 weeks, those who ate the keto-style diet had higher testosterone levels than those who ate the Western diet.
Another small study of 40 overweight men found that a very low-calorie ketogenic diet not only increased testosterone but also improved testicular function.
Some research has looked at the benefits of a keto diet in people with chronic health conditions.
A 2021 study of people with chronic conditions found that in adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes, the keto diet had links to lower food cravings, increased exercise and better sexual function.
While more research is needed to know if there’s any connection between ketosis and erectile dysfunction, there are ways to treat ED.
Treatment options for erectile dysfunction include:
Oral treatments like sildenafil (generic Viagra®), tadalafil (generic Cialis®) or avanafil (generic Stendra®)
There are plenty of erectile dysfunction treatments available, and working with a healthcare provider or mental health professional can help you find the right one for you.
Though a very low-calorie ketogenic diet has some associations with improved libido and sexual function, there’s little to no research studying any link between keto and erectile dysfunction.
But just because your keto diet and ED occur at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean they’re related. Erectile dysfunction is common and could be brought on by many reasons, from physical well-being to mental health and more.
A keto diet may also have immediate effects — like losing weight quickly — but restrictive diets aren’t particularly sustainable, so it may be difficult to stick with it. You can learn more about the best and worst foods for erectile dysfunction in our guide on an optimal ED diet.
If you’re considering treatment, explore the options we offer for erectile dysfunction.