Up to half of all middle-aged and older men are affected by erectile dysfunction, and the answer may not be a little blue pill. Men who eat foods rich in flavonoids are less likely to suffer from the condition, and that risk is even lower if they also exercise regularly. So report researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, who asked more than 25,000 otherwise healthy middle aged men about their ability to have and maintain an erection sufficient for intercourse, with the data stretching back to 1986. Nearly 36% of the men reported experiencing erectile dysfunction over the course of the study, and the researchers at Harvard and the University of East Anglia in the UK found that "men in the highest compared with the lowest quintile of intakes of [flavonoids] had a 9% to 11% reduced incidence of ED."
That benefit was greatest when men—particularly younger ones—consumed foods with three types of flavonoids: anthocyanins, flavones, and flavanones. In the US, the top sources of these are strawberries, blueberries, red wine, apples, pears, and citrus. "In terms of quantities, we’re talking just a few portions a week," says lead researcher Aedin Cassidy. And the benefit grew when exercise was added into the mix: The combination of the two dropped risk by 21%, with the Independent reporting that the findings build on earlier results showing a link between exercise and reduced risk of erectile dysfunction. And the benefits could be even greater: One study author says the dysfunction is "often an early barometer of poor vascular function and offers a critical opportunity to intervene and prevent cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and even death." (Coffee appears to help, too.)