Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Better Erections, Without Drugs

You don't need Viagra to have firmer erections.

Mention older men’s wilting erections, and people immediately think Viagra. Yes, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, can raise flags that have fallen to half staff. But fewer than half of men over 50 have tried them, and of those, fewer than half have renewed their prescriptions. Why? Because the drugs don’t work as well as advertised, and the side effects can be annoying.

There are other ways to boost flagging erections. First adopt a healthy lifestyle, then try two supplements. For an erection-supporting lifestyle:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat less meat, cheese, and whole-milk dairy, and fewer rich desserts.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don't have more than two alcoholic drinks a day.

Erection depends on healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems. Sexual stimuli trigger the nervous system to open the arteries in the penis, allowing greater inflow of blood. Neurological and cardiovascular problems can impair this process.

Don’t Smoke, Eat Less Meat and Cheese

Smoking and a diet high in animal fat (sausage at breakfast, pizza for lunch, burgers for dinner) are hell on the cardiovascular system. They fill the bloodstream with oxygen ions (“free radicals”) that injure the artery walls and spur formation of fatty, cholesterol-rich deposits, “plaques.”

Over time, plaques grow and narrow the arteries, restricting blood flow. When plaques affect the arteries in the heart, the result is heart disease; in the genitals, it's erection impairment. Studies show that compared with the general population, smokers suffer much more erectile dysfunction (ED). Other studies show that as cholesterol levels increase, so does the risk of ED.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Fortunately, the harm free radicals cause can be prevented with antioxidant nutrients, notably vitamins A, C, and E, and the minerals, selenium, and zinc. Antioxidant supplements can help, but nutritionists and public health officials agree that the best way to get antioxidants is from foods rich in them: fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

That's why health officials urge at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Many studies show that as fruit and vegetable consumption increases, the risk of heart disease and every major cancer decreases.

There have been no big studies of dietary antioxidants and sexual satisfaction, but the link is biologically irrefutable. As antioxidant intake increases, so does blood healthy flow around the body, including into the penis.

If you smoke, quit. And eat at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables—fruit with breakfast, a salad and/or vegetable at lunch and dinner, and snack on fruit.

Get Regular, Moderate Exercise

Exercise keeps the cardiovascular system pumping blood into the penis. A UCLA study shows that as fitness increases, ED decreases. Experts recommend the equivalent of at least a brisk half-hour daily walk.

Lose Weight, Prevent Diabetes

Regular exercise and a diet rich in antioxidants is also the foundation of permanent weight control and diabetes prevention. Studies at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center show that weight loss is strongly associated with better sexual function. Other studies show that diabetes is a major risk factor for ED, and that a healthy lifestyle prevents the disease and can restore erection function.

Limit Alcohol

As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, alcohol “provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.” Alcohol is a powerful depressant. One drink spurs relaxation. But beyond two drinks at one sitting, the nerves in your genitals get plastered and can't function. Alcohol is the world’s leading cause of sexual impairment.

Try Ginseng

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) opens the arteries, including those that carry blood into the penis. Korean researchers gave 90 ED sufferers one of three treatments: a placebo, an antidepressant (trazodone), or ginseng. The placebo and antidepressant groups showed 30 percent erection improvement, the ginseng group, 60 percent. Other Korean scientists repeated this study, giving a placebo or ginseng (2,700 mg/day) to 45 men with ED. After 8 weeks, the ginseng group reported firmer erections. However, 2,700 mg of ginseng might cause jitters and possibly insomnia.

Try Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol is a compound found in the French maritime pine (Pinus pinaster), which grows in southern Canada. Several studies show that in combination with the amino acid L-arginine, it boost synthesis of nitric oxide, which plays a significant role in erection. Other studies show that pycnogenol helps restore wilting erections. In one study, 124 ED sufferers took either a placebo or pycnogenol and L-arginine (four tablets a day, 20 mg pycnogenol, 700 mg L-arginine). After six months, the supplement group showed a modest but significant improvement in erection, without side effects.


Bartolotti, A et al. “The Epidemiology of Erectile Dysfunction and Its Risk Factors,” International Journal of Andrology (1997) 20:323.

Chung, WS et al. “Is Obesity an Underlying Factor in Erectile Dysfunction?” European Urology (1999) 36:68

Derby, CA et al. “Modifiable Risk Factors and Erectile Dysfunciton: Can Lifestyle Changes Modify Risk?” Urology (2000) 56:302.

Jancin, B. “Coronary Risk Factors Flag Future Erectile Woes,” Family Practice News, 9-1-2003.

Jensen, J et al. “The Prevalence and Etiology of Impotence in 101 Male Hypertensive Outpatients,” American Journal of Hypertension (1999) 12:271.

Johannes, CB et al. “Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction in Men 40 to 69 Years Old: Longitudinal Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” Journal of Urology (2000) 163:460.

Kim, SC. “Hyperlipidemia and Erectile Dysfunction,” Asian Journal of Andrology (2000) 2:161.

Ledda, A. et al. “Investigation of a Complex Plant Extract for Mild to Moderate Erectile Dysfunction,” BJU International (2010) 106:1030.

Levin, S. “Does Exercise Enhance Sexuality?” The Physician and Sportsmedicine. March 1993, p. 199.

Mann, D. “Weight Loss Linked to Improved Sex Life,” Medical Tribune 5-12-1997.

Mannino, DM et al. “Cigarette Smoking: An Independent Risk Factor for Impotence?” American Journal of Epidemiology (1994) 140:1003.

Spangler, JG et al. “Smoking, Hypertension, and Erectile Dysfunction,” Journal of Family Practice (2001) 50:73.

Wei, M et al. “Total Cholesterol and HDL Cholesterol as Important Predictors of Erectile Dysfunction,” American Journal of Epidemiology (1994) 140:930.

White, JR. et al. “Enhanced Sexual Behavior in Exercising Men,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (1990) 19:193.

Wuh, H. Sexual Fitness. Putnam, NY, 2001.