By | October 24, 2016

The role of diet in living a fulfilling, healthy life is often brought up on daytime television and across the internet. However, many forget the role diet plays in maintaining sexual health, and individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or intellectual disabilities may experience problems with sexual performance or erectile functioning. In fact, psychological disabilities or conditions, including autism and intellectual disabilities, contribute to 15 percent of all cases of erectile dysfunction, explains Healthline. Yet, specific statistics on the number of people with autism who suffer from problems with sexual performance or fertility remains unknown.

Not having the proper nutrients available for sex, including being overweight or obese, can actually do untold damage to the reproductive system in those with disabilities. So, you need to help them understand how food choices and diet impact sexual health, including the impact of nutrition on fertility, how diet affects sexual performance and mental wellness and what food choices can improve sexual health without focusing on adding sexual-enhancing medications.


Impact of Diet on Fertility

Think about the specific bodily processes involved in being fertile. Cells undergo meiosis to form ova (the plural form of ovum, which means “the egg”) and spermatozoa (the male reproductive cell). As a result, the original parent cells of these ova and spermatozoa must have an adequate supply of nutrients available to undergo meiosis.

Unfortunately, a lack of nutrients may contribute to errors during this division process and result in chromosome abnormalities, reports the University of Rochester Medical Center. However, this is not the only impact nutrition has on meiosis. If the cells are missing amino acids or proteins, cell division may become slowed or stopped entirely. As a result, the person is incapable of producing healthy, mature sex cells. In addition, individuals with intellectual or development disabilities (IDDs) may suffer from pre-existing conditions contributing to infertility.

Recent studies by the National Institutes of Health have found strong evidence to suggest improved nutrition may improve fertility as well. Specifically, ovulation induction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) appeared to be more effective after weight loss, upon reaching a healthier body mass index (BMI). While this may seem like a trivial concern, it represents the true value a healthy diet has in maintaining sexual health.


Diet and Sexual Performance

Poor sexual performance, including problems with stamina and erectile dysfunction, are terms typically applied to men. However, inhibited sexual performance can affect women as well as men, and among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), the chances of living with poor sexual performance are high.

In a recent study, researchers found changes in neurotransmitters, which may be related to the use of antipsychotics or medications or the effects of IDDs, can result in oxidative stress throughout the body. In other words, the body becomes “too stressed out” to handle sexual activity, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

For men, multiple medication treatments, such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, have been developed to improve sexual performance and maintain an erection. But, only within the last 18 months has the Food and Drug Administration cleared a similar medication for use in women, Addyi, reports WebMD. But, this drug can have similar side effects to traditional erectile dysfunction medication, ranging from low blood pressure to fainting.

Now, pair those possible side effects with the existing side effects of medications individuals with IDDs or ASD may be taking. Adding erectile dysfunction medications could result in significant decreases in blood pressure, problems with cognitive functioning and more.

The outcome remains the same: is the risk of adding medications to improve sexual performance worth it? For people with problems involving sexual health, the risk may be, but what if sexual health could be improved through diet first?


Dietary Changes Can Improve Sexual Health

The female and male reproductive systems tend to benefit from eating certain foods. Since the bodily processes are the same for people with and without disabilities, excluding disabilities impacting cellular function in the digestive system, according to Healthline, men with intellectual disabilities or autism can boost their sexual performance by eating the following food types:

  • Spices – Garlic, onions, chilies and peppers help to circulation.
  • Potassium-Rich Foods – Bananas, avocados, fish and leafy greens may reduce high blood pressure, promoting better circulation and sexual function.
  • Omega-3s Omega-3s are a class of essential oils that have been shown to improve heart health. Common sources of omega-3s include fresh nuts, eggs and fish.
  • B Vitamins – These vitamins help to reduce stress levels by improving the movement of neurotransmitters within the brain. As a result, a person is more likely to feel less stressed and better, which may reduce worries over sexual activity.

The health benefits of each of these classes of foods also applies to women. However, a few additional foods can help boost female sexual health, reports Women’s Health magazine, which includes unsweetened cranberry juice and foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges and oatmeal. Ultimately, making healthier food choices regardless of sex may work wonders for improving conditions that contribute to poor sexual performance or ability.


What’s Next?

Implementing a nutritional program for individuals with autism or disabilities should not focus solely on sexual health. Instead, it should focus on how dietary changes can influence overall health, naturally leading to better sexual health. Rather than avoiding the subject, you need to take a proactive role in teaching them how diet affects the mind and body, including sexual ability.

More importantly, eating the right foods for better sexual health will translate into cost savings and health benefits in the long run. For example, eating a diet high in omega-3s may reduce the need for antihypertensives among individuals with disabilities, which could improve sexual function and health. As a result, those you serve may not need funding sources for certain blood pressure medications. In other words, if the person does not need the medication to begin with, the cost is proactively managed.

You have a duty to teach those you serve more about how to improve their overall health. Since sexual health plays such a major role in overall health, you must continue the conversation with how dietary choices can improve sexual wellness. Do not become another caregiver or provider looking to medications for the answers. Instead, use education to try to resolve the problems through dietary changes first.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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