Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects as many as 30 million men in the United States. Almost half of men over age 75 experience ED, according to the National Institutes of Health.
ED is commonly called “impotence.” It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido.
These kinds of issues can happen at any time and to any man. Causes mainly include:
- relationship issues
- performance anxiety
- alcohol consumption
Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months.
Standard treatments include pharmaceutical medications, vacuum pumps, implants, and surgery, but many men prefer natural options. Research has found that some natural options can improve your ED symptoms.
A number of factors can increase your risk of ED. Attaining an erection involves the brain, hormones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. A problem with any of these components can block the normal functioning of the penis.
Some common causes of ED include:
- heart disease
- multiple sclerosis
- tobacco use
- Parkinson’s disease
- enlarged prostate gland
One study found that persistent alcohol use induced ED as well. Seventy-two percent of men diagnosed with alcohol dependence syndrome were diagnosed with sexual dysfunction. This includes premature ejaculation and ED.
It’s important to check with your doctor because ED may be a sign of additional health problems. For example, if you have heart disease, you can take a number of steps that will likely improve both your heart health and your ED. This includes lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
Your doctor will likely prescribe some common treatments if other health issues aren’t found to be the cause of your ED. However, you may also choose natural options.
Standard treatments for ED include lifestyle changes, such as:
- losing weight
- stopping smoking
- curbing alcohol intake
Medications like Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra increase blood flow to the penis. But they can also cause side effects, including:
- nasal congestion
- upset stomach
- vision changes
- facial flushing
Men who have experienced a stroke or have uncontrolled diabetes or low blood pressure should not take ED medications.
Testosterone replacement and erection-inducing injections are also available. Side effects may include:
- breast enlargement
- increased urination
- aching in the penis
- gum or mouth irritation
Non-drug treatments for ED include penile vacuum pumps, penile implants, and blood vessel surgery. A pump is used right before intercourse to pull blood into the penis. However, this method can cause bruising. Implants must be surgically inserted into the penis. They can then be inflated when necessary. Risks include those typically associated with surgery, such as infections.
Blood vessel surgery is recommended only when leaking vessels cause ED. Even though all these methods may help some men, natural alternatives can be just as effective, but less invasive.
Called the “herbal Viagra,” Panax ginseng (“red ginseng”) has solid research behind it. Researchers reviewed seven studies of red ginseng and ED in 2008. Dosages ranged from 600 to 1,000 mg three times daily. They concluded there was “suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.”
One small study also indicated Rhodiola rosea may be helpful. Twenty-six out of 35 men were given 150 to 200 mg a day for three months. They experienced substantially improved sexual function.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It can be converted to both estrogen and testosterone in the body. Scientists make the dietary supplement from wild yam and soy.
The influential Massachusetts male aging study showed that men with ED were more likely to have low levels of DHEA. Forty men with ED participated in another study published in 1999, in which half received 50 mg DHEA and half received a placebo once a day for six months. Those receiving the DHEA were more likely to achieve and maintain an erection.
L-arginine is an amino acid naturally present in the body. It helps make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels to facilitate a successful erection. Researchers studied the effects of L-arginine on ED in 1999. Thirty-one percent of men with ED taking 5 grams of L-arginine a day experienced significant improvements in sexual function.
A second study showed that L-arginine combined with pycnogenol, a plant product from tree bark, restored sexual ability to 80 percent of participants after two months. Ninety-two percent had restored sexual ability after three months.
Though studies are mixed, many show positive results when acupuncture is used to treat ED. A 1999 study, for example, found that acupuncture improved the quality of erections and restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.
A later study published in 2003 reported that 21 percent of ED patients who received acupuncture had improved erections. Other studies have shown conflicting results, but this treatment has potential and may work for you.
Other alternative therapies thought to help ED may include zinc supplements (especially for men who are low in zinc), the herb ashwagandha (also called “Indian ginseng”), and gingko, but more studies are needed to know with certainty.
In the meantime, talk with your doctor about your options, and don’t give up. ED is a common condition that’s very treatable. With some trial and error, you’re likely to find what works for you and your partner.