Reviewed by Peter J. Stahl, MD
Written by Our Editorial Team
Let’s talk erectile engineering for a moment. Physiologically speaking, healthy erections are about one thing: blood flow. Blood flow is literally the center of the universe when it comes to erections — it’s the helium to your balloon. So if you’re wondering how to “fix” ED, what you’re really wondering is how to increase and maintain blood flow to penis naturally or with medication.
There are many ways to do it, of course. Diet, exercise, changes in your habits and behaviors… Even your vices can impact your erectile health.
We put together a guide to help you do just that. Below, we cover every possible base — simple changes to your daily routine, FDA-approved medications, and more.
When blood is able to flow freely into the erectile tissue inside your penis (also called the corpora cavernosa), assuming you have no other health problems, you’ll find it much easier to get and keep an erection when you become sexually aroused.
When your blood flow is restricted as a result of a health condition, a habit, or effects of your diet, you’ll find it more difficult to get an erection. Very restricted blood flow could prevent you from getting an erection at all.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, around 30 million adult men in the United States are affected by erectile dysfunction (ED), making issues with getting and maintaining an erection far more common than many people think.
So how do you improve blood flow? Boy, do we have some recommendations.
Here’s our first piece of medical advice: skip the gas station supplements. You don’t need to be looking for L-arginine and amino acid values on some packet of pills with a picture of a timber wolf that’s been sitting next to lottery tickets for two years.
If you’re concerned about ED, you should speak to a healthcare provider. They can do more than encourage you to get healthy. In fact, the most straightforward solution to blood flow issues in your penis — medications — are what a healthcare provider will likely offer to solve the problem.
There are a number of these medications on the market, all approved by the FDA to solve this exact problem. They’re called phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors, or PDE5 inhibitors.
PDE5 inhibitors increase blood flow to your penis by relaxing, the smooth muscle in your blood vessels and penis. The NIH reminds everyone that these blood flow pills don’t cause an erection, but with sexual stimulation, they can help you harden up.
PDE5s are the only vasodilators clinically proven, backed by the FDA and specifically designed to improve blood flow to the penis. There are several of this class of ED treatments used to improve blood flow and erectile function, all of which require a prescription:
Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil, typically lasts for slightly longer than Viagra and is also used 60 minutes before sex.
These medications are specifically used to treat erectile dysfunction, making them a treatment option worth considering.
Most sexual dysfunction medications can be used before sexual activity, allowing you to get relief from erectile dysfunction exactly when you need it. Certain medications can also be used on a daily basis, so that you are ready for spontaneous activity whenever you need to be.
We offer a range of medications for erectile dysfunction online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate for you.
If you’re having blood flow issues downstairs, the second treatment option your healthcare provider will likely explore with you if you're concerned about blood flow to your penis is your diet.
The foods you eat can have a significant impact on your blood flow. Eating a healthy diet that’s rich in vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients can improve your cardiovascular function and allow blood to flow easily around your body, including to your penile blood vessels.
On the other hand, eating a diet that’s high in unhealthy fats, salt and other nutrients can affect your blood supply and may make it harder to get and maintain a strong erection.
It turns out, despite popular belief, there may be a pretty negative correlation between bacon and boners.
Anyway, if you want to improve blood flow to your penis (and other parts of your body, of course). try adding the following foods to your diet. Keep in mind that the impact of diet and foods on sexual function is long-term and requires disciplined and consistent better eating for at least a couple of months to see significant effects:
Garlic. In a three-month study of people with coronary artery disease, researchers found that consuming garlic may improve endothelial function, though further research is necessary.
Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, serve as excellent sources of dietary protein. But studies also suggest that they could promote a reduction in resting blood pressure.
Onions. Onions are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, which may help dilate your arteries and improve your cardiovascular health. In a 2013 study, researchers found that regular consumption of onion extract may benefit heart health in men.
Citrus fruits. Lemons, oranges, grapefruits and other citrus fruits also contain large amounts of flavonoids, which are linked to improved blood flow and a healthy heart. However, grapefruit (and grapefruit juice) both have the potential to increase blood levels of certain medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) and other PDE5 inhibitors.
Dark chocolate. Chocolate with a high cacao percentage is rich in flavonoids that may improve heart function. Since it’s cacao that produces improvements in heart health, try to select chocolate with a cacao content of 70 percent or more and avoid milk chocolate.
Nitrate-rich vegetables. Vegetables like lettuce and spinach contain large amounts of nitrates. Nitrates are converted into nitric oxide within your body, which is an important natural chemical for promoting optimal blood flow.
Nuts. Walnuts and almonds are rich in minerals such as iron and magnesium that can improve blood flow and cardiovascular health. They’re also packed with important vitamins that can contribute to good overall health.
Red hot peppers. The capsaicin in red hot peppers is linked to improved blood flow. Research has found that capsaicinoids can promote healthy blood flow by stimulating the release of nitric oxide.
Turmeric. A 2017 study of curcumin — a compound found in turmeric — found that regular consumption of curcumin improves blood flow by a significant amount.
As well as emphasizing the foods above, it’s also important to avoid foods that can damage your cardiovascular system and reduce blood circulation.
Salt. Foods that are high in salt can increase the amount of sodium in your bloodstream, which increases blood pressure. This can damage your arteries and affect blood flow to your penis, affecting your ability to get and maintain an erection during sex.
Try to limit your sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, which is the maximum amount recommended by the American Heart Association.
Sugar. While sugar doesn’t directly affect blood pressure, overconsumption can increase your risk of developing diabetes — a disorder that can impact your blood flow and significantly increase your risk of dealing with erectile dysfunction.
Trans fats. Trans fats are the worst form of dietary fat, with no health benefits and many negative cardiovascular effects (particularly for LDL cholesterol). As such, they’re best avoided in favor of healthier types of fat.
In addition to prioritizing foods and ingredients for improving erections, it’s also essential to keep yourself properly hydrated.
HEY! YES, YOU! THIS IS YOUR DAILY REMINDER TO DRINK MORE WATER!
A whopping ninety percent of your blood plasma is made up of water, meaning it continues to flow best when you drink a normal amount of hydrating fluids. When you become dehydrated, there’s a lower volume of blood that’s able to travel through your body to muscles, organs and specific tissue, such as your penis.
While there’s no ideal amount of water for everyone to drink daily, the eight-by-eight rule of eight glasses of eight ounces each is a helpful guide. If you’re highly physically active or it’s a hot day, consider adding an extra glass or two.
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In addition to eating a balanced diet, there are several other proverbial levers you can pull to promote increased blood flow to your penis. Experts generally suggest the following lifestyle changes for really optimizing your erectile health:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Keeping your stress level under control
Dropping cigarettes from your life.
Let’s take a look at why these habits are so important in more detail.
Obesity and erectile dysfunction are closely linked. Men who are overweight or obese are more likely to experience sexual performance issues.
There are also other sex-related issues linked to obesity like the potential of low testosterone levels.
Basically, obesity is one giant risk factor. That’s the easiest way to sum it up.
Of course, there’s no need to obsess over your body fat percentage, or weigh yourself every day.
But it is important to eat the proper diet and exercise regularly. Not only will it minimize your risk of heart disease (and keep you alive a little longer), but it’ll optimize cardiovascular function and, therefore, blood flow — including blood flow to the penis.
Exercising is one of the most effective ways to improve your cardiovascular health and increase blood flow.
That’s important whether your sexual health is a priority or not, but these benefits apply to the erectile tissue in your penis that’s responsible for helping you get and keep an erection during sex.
In a 2018 scientific review, researchers stated that both resistance training (which can include weightlifting and calisthenics) and endurance training are effective at lowering baseline blood pressure.
But exercise in any form, is a great way to improve your body’s blood flow.
Nicotine can affect your vascular health and affect your sexual vigor in a fairly straightforward way: it’s a vasoconstrictor.
When you consume nicotine, your heart starts beating faster, your blood pressure rises and the arteries that control blood flow throughout your body start to constrict.
The end result is a reduction in your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, reducing blood circulation through your body — including the flow of blood to the erectile tissue of your penis.
So, not only are smokers jokers, but they’re also erection chokers and can make your bedroom game mediocre…s. Close enough.
When you feel stressed, your body activates its sympathetic nervous system, resulting in an increase in your levels of hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.
These stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure levels and reducing blood flow throughout your body.
Just like nicotine and certain foods, stress can have a vasoconstricting effect, meaning it lowers blood flow. This can lead to a variety of issues, including erectile dysfunction. In fact, stress is a known cause of ED and other sexual health issues in men.
While some stress is unavoidable, reducing your daily stress level can be a simple, effective way to promote healthy blood flow to your penis and improve your sexual performance.
This can be as simple as changing your day-to-day habits and routine to avoid major sources of stress, exploring things like mindful meditation or even taking time to talk to a mental health professional.
When it comes to treating erectile dysfunction, developing habits and using medications that increase blood flow to your penis naturally can be extremely helpful.
Lifestyle changes are crucial. Sometimes, simple changes to your daily routine — like reducing stress levels or exercising regularly — can make a huge difference.
Get started now. The sooner you make changes, the sooner you’ll see results, so there’s no time like now.
If you’re not sure how to increase blood flow to your penis or just need help getting started, you can take part in an ED consultation online.
You can also learn more about your options for improving poor circulation to your penis, getting an erection and enjoying optimal sexual performance in our guide to the most common forms of treatment for ED.