Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection in order to engage in sexual intercourse. ED causes and treatments vary, but there are many commonalities in causes that allow the condition to be successfully treated.
While FDA-approved drugs like Viagra are immensely popular for treating ED, some men are interested in learning about alternative treatments. There are several measures that any man can take to improve his sexual function, and they don’t require a prescription:
- Stop smoking – nicotine impairs blood circulation
- Limit consumption of alcohol – a depressant, alcohol can impair sexual functioning
- Exercise – regular physical activity improves circulation throughout the body and reduces stress that can contribute to ED
- Improve diet – a diet high in fruits, whole grains, and vegetables with limited saturated fats and trans fats is great for keeping the cardiovascular system healthy and maintaining excellent circulation
- Keep blood glucose levels under control – the dietary guidelines diabetics follow are healthy for anyone and lead to better mood stability and cardiovascular health
- Practice stress relief techniques – meditation, yoga, and guided imagery are great for reducing the stress that can be a factor in ED
Beyond these common sense measures, alternative practitioners recommend other non-traditional treatments, including supplements and other techniques used in Eastern medicine. Here are some examples.
Decrease Stimulants and Alcohol, Increase Natural Circulation Boosters
Dr. Andrew Weil, MD is the founder and Program Director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Weil recommends the lifestyle changes mentioned above, as well as these supplements:
- Ginkgo – an herb that is anecdotally linked with improved arousal in both men and women. It is believed by some to increase blood flow to the sexual organs. However, ginkgo shouldn’t be used by people taking blood thinning medications
- Ashwagandha – an extract of Asian ginseng that is popular in India due to a reputation as a mild aphrodisiac. This and other types of ginseng may take several weeks of regular use to show an effect
Vitamins and Amino Acid Supplements
A report in US News and World Report lists several vitamin and amino acid supplements that may be beneficial to men with ED. Because ED causes and treatments vary, some trial and error may be necessary. The report states that many of these supplements have not been subject to clinical trials, so it is a good idea to speak with a physician before trying them. Supplements reported to be beneficial to men with ED include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Flaxseed meal
Additionally, some ED patients have experienced improvement by taking low dosages of dihydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). However, some medical experts are concerned about the long-term safety of DHEA.
Consider Supplements; Beware of “Herbal Viagra”
If you have ever done a Google search on “Viagra” or “erectile dysfunction” you have no doubt seen search results touting so-called “herbal Viagra.” Some of these products can be dangerous, and it’s almost impossible to tell which ones those are. In fact, the FDA has issued warnings about several such offerings because they have been found to contain potentially harmful substances that are not listed on the label.
These products can cause dangerous interactions with prescription medications and can drastically lower blood pressure, so you are advised to stay away from them. Some may list ingredients like Korean red ginseng, DHEA, or L-arginine, which alone may not be problematic. But the risk of ingesting something harmful is far too high to take a chance on a product that claims to be an herbal version of Viagra.
Acupuncture and ED
Acupuncture has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. It involves sticking tiny needles into particular points on the body. Though acupuncture is not part of Western medicine, it is believed by many alternative practitioners to stimulate the body’s own healing power and restore proper energy flow in the body. The theory is that by helping correct energy imbalances in the body, acupuncture may help men with ED.
Available Data on Herbal Supplements
When it comes to taking supplements to help with ED, you are better off avoiding preparations made with multiple herbs and taking herbs individually so you can better fine-tune your dosages. Three other supplements that have been linked with improvement in ED are propionyl-L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine and zinc.
Propionyl-L-carnitine was tested along with acetyl-L-carnitine in a study of 96 men with erectile dysfunction following prostate surgery. The men were divided into groups and given one of three treatments:
- A placebo
- 2 grams per day of Propionyl-L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine along with Viagra on an as-needed basis
Propionyl-L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine along with Viagra resulted in reports of improved performance over Viagra alone in terms of satisfaction with sexual activity and general sexual functioning.
Propionyl-L-carnitine was also used in another study along with Viagra in diabetic men with ED who did not respond to Viagra alone. The men in that study who used propionyl-L-carnitine along with Viagra reported significantly better sexual functioning than men taking only Viagra.
Zinc has not undergone the kind of testing that propionyl-L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine have undergone. However, zinc deficiency is associated with diabetes, long term diuretic use, kidney disease, liver disease, and digestive disorders, all of which may lead to ED.
L-arginine is another amino acid, and it is used by the body to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide signals smooth muscle surrounding blood vessels to relax, resulting in vessel dilation and increased blood flow. For those reasons, L-arginine is another commonly used supplement by men with ED.
Supplements of L-arginine are available, but it is also naturally found in dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry. Studies involving L-arginine versus a placebo found that men taking L-arginine experienced better sexual function compared with a placebo, but only if the men initially had low levels of nitric oxide.
Men with ulcers or who take drugs that are hard on the stomach are urged to be careful when taking L-arginine. Large doses can increase production of stomach acid. Also, because L-arginine can change potassium levels, people taking other medications that affect potassium levels should avoid L-arginine supplements, as should those with liver disease.
ED causes and treatment methods vary, because so many different factors affect sexual functioning. Those who want to try alternative treatments for ED should remember that most of them are not regulated, and it’s not always easy to know what you’re getting in supplements.
You should speak to your physician before trying these alternatives in case you have medical conditions or are taking medications that contraindicate certain herbs and supplements. And if you have unpleasant side effects, you should stop taking the supplements or herbs.
If you have experienced ED and are interested in trying FDA-approved drugs like Viagra, you may consider checking out AccesRx.com. AccessRx is an online facilitator that contracts with U.S.-licensed pharmacists and physicians who are able to prescribe and dispense Viagra to men to whom it is likely to be beneficial and safe. ED isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but you should know that millions of men experience ED, and there are many effective treatments available for it.