Sure, it’s only been recent that society has begun to talk more openly about issues like menstrual cycles and hormone imbalances, but what about men? These days, it seems like our only familiarity around male reproductive dysfunction is with “male enhancing drug” advertisements. Think about the slew of commercials you’ve seen featuring a couple who is happy and smiling because the older gentleman discreetly uses a little blue pill. But guess what? That pill is a vasodilator originally designed for hypertension. The marketing we see for this prescription drug depicts a very distorted picture, one in which sexual dysfunction is a factor of old age and has a simple solution: pharmaceuticals. This is hardly the truth. Current research has determined that male reproductive dysfunction is both highly prevalent and predominantly a vascular issue. Therefore, it can affect men of any age, and conditions and diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and other cardiovascular diseases may all be risk factors associated with reproductive dysfunction in men.
Fortunately, some of the best and simplest ways to stave off male reproductive dysfunction involve everyday diet and lifestyle habits. Current research suggests that adding some very common foods and supplements to your diet can help support the male reproductive system.
One small pilot study considered the use of pistachios in improving reproductive function in men. After three weeks of a daily dose of 100 grams (approximately one cup) of pistachios, standardized reports of sexual function had improved among participants. Other parameters improved as well, including decreased serum total cholesterol and decreased LDL to HDL ratio.
Studies have found that watermelon may be a great source of citrulline, which aids in the production of nitric oxide, the body’s endogenously made vasodilator. In one study, participants who consumed six cups of watermelon juice daily for three weeks were discovered to have significantly more citrulline conversion than did the control group. However, few studies have tested the parameters of reproductive function as a result of watermelon ingestion in humans.
Herbs and spices have been used for centuries as aphrodisiacs and fertility-enhancing substances. In modern times, preliminary research has shown some to have had beneficial effects on male reproductive dysfunction. Maca root and saffron have shown some of the best results in increasing sexual function in human and rat trials. However, current evidence is mostly anecdotal, and the results are mixed between dried herbs and extracts.
The Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial for the prevention of many chronic diseases, but research has also found that this diet improves reproductive function in men. The Mediterranean diet — which is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and unsaturated fat and includes only limited quantities of meat — has been demonstrated to improve cardiovascular risk factors like insulin resistance, high serum triglycerides, and hypertension. Thus, eating for cardiovascular health is also eating for reproductive health. We may often generalize the male reproductive system as less complicated than its female counterpart, but we need to remember that men of all ages experience issues with reproductive health.
If you’re looking for more information on natural ways to improve reproductive dysfunction, talk with a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University Clinic in San Diego, CA or Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, WA.
By Jessica Malone, Master in Science in Nutrition for Wellness student at Bastyr University California (’20)
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