Hadley Finch introduction: Sustaining an active, exciting sex life helps you spark a lasting fire of love with your partner. This article series is designed to help 30 million men over 40 and the women who love them treat and resolve erectile dysfunction “ED”. In Part 1 you learned how a penis changes in size, appearance and sexual function as a man ages. In Part 2 you discovered the risks and effectiveness of the top 4 FDA-approved drugs to treat ED. Now you’ll discover how simple lifestyle changes and natural supplements may resolve ED and revive sexual passion and performance in this guest article by WebMD experts in men’s sexual health:
By David Freeman, WebMD Feature Writer and Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
An estimated 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and seven out of 10 cases are caused by a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems. So it’s smart to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected before you start down the natural treatment route.
Experts who spoke with WebMD agree that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is a dangerous game. “If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis,” says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED — including the feeling that “you’re not as hard as you could be” — often responds to natural remedies. But which remedies? Here’s a look at the evidence for and against six of the most popular ones:
Acupuncture. Though acupuncture has been used to treat male sexual problems for centuries, the scientific evidence to support its use for erectile dysfunction is equivocal at best. In 2009 South Korean scientists conducted a systematic review of studies on acupuncture for ED. They found major design flaws in all of the studies, concluding that “the evidence is insufficient to suggest that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED.”
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body’s production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine’s effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects.
Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor’s supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
DHEA. Testosterone is essential for a healthy libido and normal sexual function, and erectile dysfunction sufferers known to have low testosterone improve when placed on prescription testosterone replacement therapy. Similarly, studies have shown that taking over-the-counter supplements containing DHEA, a hormone that the body converts to testosterone and estrogen, can help alleviate some cases of ED. But DHEA can cause problems, including suppression of pituitary function, and its long-term safety is unknown, says McCullough. For this reason, many experts discourage use of the supplements.
Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought “enhanced penile tip rigidity.” Experts aren’t sure how ginseng might work, though it’s thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. “I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED],” says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
Pomegranate juice. Drinking antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Does pomegranate juice also protect against ED? No proof exists, but results of a study published in 2007 were promising. The authors of this small-scale pilot study called for additional research, saying that larger-scale studies might prove pomegranate juice’s effectiveness against erectile dysfunction. “I tell my patients to drink it,” says Espinosa. “It could help ED, and even if it doesn’t, it has other health benefits.”
Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. “It’s not a great drug,” says McCullough. “And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version.” What’s more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
Horny Goat Weed. Horny goat weed and related herbs have purportedly been treatments for sexual dysfunction for years. Italian researchers found that the main compound in horny goat weed, called icariin, acted in a similar way as drugs like Viagra.
Ginkgo biloba. Known primarily as a treatment for cognitive decline, ginkgo has also been used to treat erectile dysfunction — especially cases caused by the use of certain antidepressant medications. But the evidence isn’t very convincing. One 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that it did work. But a more rigorous study, published in Human Pharmacology in 2002, failed to replicate this finding. “Ginkgo has come out of fashion in the past few years,” says Ronald Tamler, MD, assistant professor of medicine and co-director of the men’s health program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “That’s because it doesn’t do much. I can say that in my practice, I have not seen ginkgo work — ever.”
No matter what erectile dysfunction treatment or treatments a man ultimately decides upon, experts say it’s important to eat healthfully and to avoid smoking and heavy drinking. In addition, says Lamm, “A loving, receptive, and responsive partner is a home run. After all, this is still a couple’s issue.”
How can couples have a passionate sex life if a man is unable to get or sustain an erection?
Get the answers in Part 4 of our series designed to help millions of men resolve ED and revive sexual passion and performance in a relationship.
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