Are There Alternatives to Drug Treatment For Male Impotence?
Posted: 1/14/2007 7:17:00 PM
Impotence, or Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a condition which affects approximately 5% of 40 year old men and between 15 and 25% of 65 year old men, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It also affects the women in these men’s lives. The pharmaceutical industry has developed (and the media has popularized!) different oral medications to help impotent men achieve erection, but they may have dangerous side effects, and men with certain medical conditions or taking other medications should not use these drugs. What are the alternatives?
The normal process of erection begins in the brain. Physical and/or mental stimulation causes the brain to send chemical messengers to the penis, relaxing the muscles so that more blood may flow into the tissues. Once there, the blood is trapped under pressure by a membrane allowing the erection to be sustained until the muscles of the penis contract. ED can occur for a number of reasons, either physical, psychological or a combination of the two. Physical causes are related to a breakdown in the process of erection, and can occur anywhere along the pathway from the brain to the spine, nerves, muscles, tissues or veins and arteries of the penis. Some common diseases which contribute to ED are those of the vascular system, such as atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and hypertension. Diabetes can contribute to nerve and artery damage, and 35-50% of men with diabetes experience ED (NIH). Psychological causes may include stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and indifference. Often, ED is a result of side effects from taking other medications.
Sometimes making lifestyle changes is enough to help men conquer ED. By quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, exercising regularly and learning techniques to reduce stress, men can improve their overall health and circulation. Reducing prescription and non-prescription drug use, or even changing the medications they are taking can be helpful to men with ED. (Talk to your doctor before changing or reducing your medication.)
Nutrition, Supplements and Herbal Remedies
Good nutrition is essential. Eating regularly timed, well-balanced meals can help people lose excess weight (obesity puts men at additional risk for ED), and a diet low in saturated fats helps to prevent atherosclerosis, the build up of fatty plaque inside the arteries. In addition, zinc may be important for male sexual health, as high levels of zinc are found in seminal fluid. Good sources of zinc include eggs, milk, seafood, meat, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. Other nutritional supplements including the amino acid arginine, bioflavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and flaxseed meal have been used to improve erectile function.
Arginine: Arginine is an amino acid found in foods such as meat, dairy products and fish. The body uses arginine to make nitric oxide, a substance which relaxes blood vessels. At moderate doses, men with ED reported an improvement in sexual performance. However, arginine also increases the production of stomach acid, with digestive distress being a common side effect.
Gingko and Ginseng: Some studies have shown that Gingko biloba and Asian ginseng have a positive effect on male sexual function. Traditionally ginseng is an aphrodisiac, a drug or food which arouses sexual desire. Gingko helps to stimulate blood flow to the penis and may be successful in treating men whose ED stems from poor circulation.
Yohimbe: Sometimes called “Herbal Viagra,” the bark of the west African yohimbe tree is a sexual stimulant. It increases blood flow to the penis and decreases the period between ejaculations. However, yohimbe is not a recommended treatment for ED, since it is a toxic herb. At very low doses, it is not therapeutic. At a therapeutic dose, it may cause serious side effects such as dizziness, nausea and anxiety. Even at as low as 40mg per day, it can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, paralysis, hallucinations, abdominal pain and fatigue.
In addition to good nutrition, exercise, and herbal remedies, some studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in treating ED. It is generally agreed that least invasive treatments should be tried first, such as lifestyle changes and even psychotherapy or counseling, before resorting to drugs or surgery.
“Erectile Dysfunction,” National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC,) National Institutes of Health, Dec. 2005.
“Erectile Dysfunction Basics,” WebMD.com, Nov. 2005.
“Erectile Dysfunction Remedies,” About:Alternative Medicine, About.com, May 2006.
“Impotence; Factors to Think About,” excerpt from Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal. Reader’s Digest, rd.com October, 2005.
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