Natural Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when someone who has a penis can’t have or maintain an erection. The condition affects around 30 million men in the U.S., and is more common in people who:

  • are older
  • have health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure
  • have had an injury to the spinal cord, penis, or pelvis
  • take medication like antidepressants or blood pressure medications
  • have anxiety or stress
  • are overweight
  • smoke

The treatment for ED depends on its cause. It may include certain prescription medications, a vacuum device, or even surgery. But lifestyle changes and other natural treatments can also help improve ED.

What are some natural remedies for treating erectile dysfunction?

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There are many natural treatments for ED. They range from lifestyle changes like modifying your diet and exercise to getting mental health or relationship counseling.

It’s best to talk with your doctor before trying a new treatment on your own. They can help identify the cause of your ED and recommend effective ED treatment options, whether conventional, natural, or a combination.

Diet

Eating a balanced diet may help maintain sexual function and decrease your risk of ED.

A 2020 study found that men who more strictly followed a Mediterranean diet or Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010 diet had a lower chance of developing ED. In particular, they consumed less red or processed meat and primarily ate:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • legumes
  • nutsfish
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Research from 2017 similarly found that eating more fruits, vegetables, and flavonoids (compounds found in produce, coffee, and other foods) lowered the risk of ED in men ages 18 to 40.

These foods are important for your overall health, so helping maintain or improve your sexual function as well is a win-win.

Exercise

Research indicates that physical activity may help protect against and improve ED. It may be particularly effective if your ED is caused by obesity, inactivity, or cardiovascular disease, among other conditions.

A 2018 research review found that moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise for 40 minutes a day, four times per week for 6 months helped reduce ED. This includes exercises like:

  • running
  • brisk walking
  • bicycling
  • swimming
  • skiing
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Physical activity helps improve blood vessel health, lower stress, and raise testosterone levels, which can all help with ED.

Sleep

It’s important for your overall health to get enough sleep each night. Sleeping regularly may also improve your ED.

A study from 2017 found that men working night shifts who reported worse sleep quality were at higher risk for ED.

A large 2015 study also indicated that people with a sleep disorder had a greater risk of developing ED. Other research has linked obstructive sleep apnea to an increased chance of ED.

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Not getting enough sleep can lower your testosterone levels, which may contribute to ED. Sustained lack of sleep is also associated with conditions that are related to ED, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Weight loss

Your weight may be another factor in ED.

According to a research review from 2020, ED was significantly more common in men who were overweight, or had obesity or a larger waist circumferences.

A small 2014 study indicated that gastric bypass surgery improved blood vessel health and ED among extremely obese men. A 2017 research review similarly found an improvement in ED after bariatric (weight loss) surgery.

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If your weight is contributing to your ED, exercise and a balanced diet can help you lose weight and improve your ED.

Psychotherapy

In some cases, ED results from a combination of physical and psychological issues. These may include fear of failure, religious beliefs, and sexual trauma, among others.

In turn, ED can lead to additional mental health issues, including emotional distress and lower self-esteem, which then can further worsen ED. Therapy may help address these issues to improve ED.

According to a 2021 research review, psychological interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy were especially effective when paired with ED medications. Mental health interventions may also be effective on their own, but more research is needed.

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A small 2018 study involving 4 weeks of mindfulness-focused group therapy indicated that this type of therapy may be helpful for improving ED and sexual satisfaction, too.

More research should be done to determine the most effective types of psychotherapy for ED.

Sex therapy or couples counseling

Around 10 to 25 percent of men with ED have no known risk factors. This condition, known as non-organic ED, may be caused by mental health issues like depression or by experiencing anxiety when having sex.

A small 2020 study found that cognitive behavior sex therapy (CBST) and medication were each effective on their own at reducing non-organic ED. In addition, CBST was more effective at lowering anxiety among study participants.

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It may also be helpful to attend counseling with your partner to help them understand your condition and discuss ways to support you.

Research from 2016 labeled ED as a shared health issue for sexual partners and recommended that couples engage in education, counseling, and therapy together.

Stress reduction

Mental health issues like stress and anxiety are often linked to ED.

A 2019 study found that stress was one of the main predictors of ED, with anxiety and depression also associated with the condition. The study suggested that chronic stress may affect testosterone or cause sleep deprivation, which may contribute to ED.

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Still, other research indicates that the effect of stress on ED is still unclear. A 2020 study found no association between stress and ED.

Another small study from 2014 found that an 8-week stress management program alongside ED medication was similarly effective for improving ED, compared with the medication alone.

Until more is understood about stress and ED, it’s still beneficial to reduce stress in your everyday life to improve your overall health.

Alcohol reduction

Studies have shown mixed results for the effects of alcohol on ED.

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A research review from 2018 found that drinking light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol (less than 21 drinks per week) was actually associated with a lowered risk of ED. On the other hand, regular and high consumption did not significantly affect ED.

Still, other research has linked alcohol use with ED. A 2018 study found that sexual dysfunction, particularly ED, was common in people with alcohol dependence syndrome. A 2020 research review also identified alcohol as a risk factor for ED.

More research is needed on the role of alcohol in ED. In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that men consume two or less alcoholic drinks per day.

Smoking cessation

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Smoking is another behavior that likely contributes to ED. This may be caused in part by smoking damaging blood vessels, preventing enough blood from reaching the penis for an erection.

Smoking may also reduce the availability of nitric oxide in the body, which is needed to cause the involuntary muscle relaxation and increased blood flow that play a role in erections.

According to a research review from 2015, more-frequent smoking was associated with an increased risk of developing ED, as well as more-severe ED.

Some damage from smoking may not be reversible. Still, the review concluded that quitting smoking, especially for men under age 50, may help improve ED.

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It’s challenging to quit smoking, but there are many resources available to help. Stopping smoking has the potential not only to help your ED, but to benefit many other areas of your health.

Are there drawbacks to using natural remedies?

Lifestyle changes may be an effective natural remedy for ED and improve your overall health. But many changes — like losing weight, quitting smoking, or eating a balanced diet — may be difficult to achieve.

It may also take time for natural treatments to have an effect. Some people, depending on the cause of their ED, may not show improvements without medications or other treatments. It’s helpful to work with your doctor to find a treatment that works for you.

Risks of ED supplements

There are many supplements advertised online as a treatment for ED, but none have been proven to be effective and safe. Some may also contain dangerous combinations of ingredients or overly high doses.

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More research in people needs to be done on herbal remedies and other supplements for ED. If you do decide to try one, be sure to talk with your doctor first. They can help you determine whether the treatment may be safe and if it’ll react with any medications you’re taking.

Frequently asked questions about erectile dysfunction

What is the most effective treatment for erectile dysfunction?

The most effective treatment for you depends on the underlying cause of your ED. While lifestyle changes tend to be safe while improving ED, they can be difficult to achieve. Oral medications are another primary treatment for ED, but they also don’t work for everyone.

The American Urological Association’s 2018 guidelines for ED state that men may choose any option — medication, lifestyle changes, assistive devices, or surgery — to begin treatment. They suggest talking with your doctor about the risks and benefits of each treatment.

Can erectile dysfunction be cured?

If your ED is caused by a lifestyle factor, health condition, or a medication you’re taking, it may be possible to reverse it by addressing the underlying cause. Surgery may also cure ED in some cases.

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On the other hand, medications treat ED symptoms and can improve ED, but do not cure the condition that’s causing it.

How can I help my partner with erectile dysfunction?

ED is a common condition that affects both sexual partners. Research suggests that partners engaging in the diagnosis, education, and therapy together may be more effective for improving ED and achieving more satisfaction from sex.

What if natural ED treatments don’t work?

Depending on the cause of your ED, natural remedies may not be effective. If this is the case, your doctor may prescribe medications for ED, like:

  • sildenafil (Viagra)
  • tadalafil (Cialis)
  • avanafil (Stendra)
  • vardenafil (Levitra)

Side effects of these medications may include headaches, indigestion, and dizziness. You shouldn’t use them if you’re also taking nitrates (chest pain medications).

Takeaway

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ED is a common condition that can affect men’s confidence, relationships, and quality of life. The most effective treatment depends on the cause of your ED. Still, natural remedies may help improve your ED and your overall health.

It’s best to talk with your doctor about your ED to identify treatments that are most likely to be helpful. It can also be beneficial to approach your condition together with your partner.

Remember that treatment, particularly lifestyle changes like losing weight or getting more exercise, may take time. Work with your doctor to find the treatment or combination of remedies that work best for you.

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