Erectile dysfunction (ED) is diagnosed when a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection, and also may include a decreased desire for sexual intercourse. Unfortunately, this is so common, particularly in men over 40. It is estimated that nearly 18 million men are affected in the United States. Men with diabetes have a 50% chance of also having symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Given this prevalence today, I do not think it is talked about or treated effectively in our culture. Treatments for erectile dysfunction are limited to expensive medications like Viagra, Cialis, vacuum pumps, implants and surgery. There has got to be a better way!
What causes ED?
As in any disease, at CentreSpringMD we like to look at the root cause of a problem. So let’s start by looking at the most common causes of erectile dysfunction. Erections occur due to a complex system of hormones, emotions, vascular and neurological systems. A malfunction in any of these areas can create a problem with obtaining or maintain an erection. Looking at the majority of men in our country the leading physical cause of ED is thought to be microvascular disease (inflammation of the small blood vessels in your body) caused by heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. Secondary physical causes can include:
- Hormonal imbalances: low testosterone, low DHEA and adrenal fatigue
- Neurological conditions: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord
- Certain prescription medications (including some treatments for prostate cancer and enlarged prostates) as well as alcoholism and substance abuse
- Tobacco use (this, among many others, is a big reason for men to quit!)
- Sleep disorders
- Emotional factors: ED can also be caused or complicated by things like high stress, depression, anxiety, sexual trauma or any other emotional component
The first step if you begin having symptoms of ED (again, decreased ability to obtain or maintain an erection or lowered libido) is to talk about it right away with your health care provider to determine your personal root cause! Once you have worked with your health care provider to determine your origin of your symptoms you can begin to address the underlying problem. In many cases, natural alternatives can be the most effective route.
What about supplements?
Just google “supplements for men with ED” and over 50 different expensive supplements claiming to cure your ED will pop up. I get it, some men will pay any amount to have these symptoms resolve, but let’s not get trapped in marketing ploys. Supplements absolutely have a place in treating ED, but let’s avoid the expense and time of trying all of these out and go back to the basics. What has been shown in the research to help and what is the root cause we are working to improve?
Panax ginseng: This herb has the most research supporting its use reducing ED symptoms. It would be most effective in that largest category of men where cardiovascular disease or high lipid levels are causing microvascular disease and ED Symptoms. Panax ginseng is shown to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation leading to the decrease in ED symptoms.
L- arginine: This amino acid is used not only for ED, but also for blood pressure reduction and cardiovascular disease. It helps increase nitric oxide which is a vasodilator that has been shown in several studies to reduce or eliminate ED symptoms. This can be used in men with microvascular disease, or as an addition to any treatment plan in a man experiencing the symptoms of ED. This can drop your blood pressure, so make sure you talk to your health care provider before starting.
DHEA: DHEA is a hormone that is produced by your adrenal glands. Studies have shown that men with ED have low levels of DHEA and supplementing has shown improvement in symptoms. Improvements were increased exponentially in men with diabetes. This might be the best choice for those patients with diabetes or with hormonal imbalances contributing to their ED symptoms. Have your health care provider check your hormone levels before starting; if numbers get too high this can lead to hair loss and acne.
Rhodiola rosea: Studies have found a substantial reduction in symptoms of ED as well as improving energy levels in men using Rhodiola three times daily. This herb is also commonly used for adrenal support and might be the right choice for a patient experiencing ED due to high stress levels.
Prevention is Key!
As with other chronic diseases, we want to get ahead of the problem before it starts. This can be achieved with a clean whole foods diet, low in sugar and processed foods, as well as regular exercise. Yet another reason to use food as medicine! This should be the treatment plan of any man who is experiencing symptoms or who never wants to develop these symptoms.
If you feel like you are having symptoms of ED and want help finding your root cause or to develop your personalized treatment or prevention plan for ED, make an appointment at CentreSpringMD!
To optimal health,
Christina Grace FNP-C