Penile erection is a haemodynamic process, involving an increase in blood flow in and out of the penis, in combination with cavernosum smooth muscle relaxation. Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as “the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance”, and affects 30-50% of men aged 40-70 years old [1,2].
Although common, it can also act as a marker for other common and more serious diseases and, therefore, deserves attention and treatment . Although there are many different treatments and approaches to ED, there has not been one ideal treatment identified, perhaps because each case has different causes. However, herbal therapies are becoming more favourable for their reduced risk of side effects over prescription medication .
Ginseng and Sexual Performance
It is generally known that nitric oxide plays an important role in penile erection by relaxing cavernosal smooth muscle cells and ginsenoside increases nitric oxide synthesis. It also has strong antioxidant properties which help reduce the build-up of fat in our arteries improving blood flow. Studies have shown that impaired nitric oxide activity has been directly correlated to impaired erectile performance .
One study found that supplementing men with ginseng for 12 weeks resulted in a significant increase in the participant's erectile performance and sexual desire compared to a placebo group. This was attributed to ginseng's ability to increase nitric oxide synthesis as well as increasing the uptake of key hormones linked to sexual function in the brain .
Ways to Increase Sexual Function
There are many ways to prevent and help reduce the symptoms of ED. Making small lifestyle changes could make all the difference in preventing this disease which becomes increasingly common as men age.
Diet is a key contributing factor towards heart health, as poor diets high in processed saturated fats cause heart attacks by restricting blood flow in coronary arteries. This restricted blood flow can also be a cause of ED as adequate blood flow to the penis is needed for a healthy erection.
The mechanics of this are mainly psychological, a fall in serotonin levels in the brain inhibits the successful firing of selective neurotransmitters which are responsible for sexual desire, this can then result in ED .
Short term consumption can cause temporary ED, but chronic consumption of alcohol can cause long term ED and loss of sexual desire. This makes the argument all the more potent for men to drink in moderation both in amount and frequency.
Exercising regularly, particularly aerobic exercising such as running and swimming, has been shown to have a positive effect on erectile performance. A study looking at lifestyle and ED found that men who completed exercise equivalent to burning at least 200 kcal every day significantly reduced their risk of developing ED. There is a two-pronged explanation to this, one being that the enhanced psychological benefits of aerobic exercise on brain health and mood contributed towards enhanced sexual performance, and the second being that aerobic exercise significantly reduces the risks of developing cardiovascular disease which is strongly linked to ED .
Testosterone is commonly known as the manly hormone, helping men develop and build muscle, it is also heavily linked to sex drive, emotional control and stamina. Levels of this hormone will drop, even healthy men when they reach their late 40s. Regular check-ups with the doctor to see if your testosterone levels are particularly low or reducing early could be a way of decreasing the likelihood of experiencing ED. Reducing alcohol consumption and regular exercise are also a way to help maintain healthy levels of testosterone in the body.
Supplements for Erectile Dysfunction
There are many supplements which have been shown to aid erectile performance or help lessen the extent of the symptoms of ED. It is recommended to use one or more of these supplements as a combination to see the best results.
L-Arginine - This amino acid is found in red meat, poultry, fish and dairy and has been shown to help expand blood vessels to aid blood flow. The body converts L- arginine to nitric oxide which aids the relaxation of smooth muscle in the penis as well as increasing blood flow to the genital area.
Vitamin D - This sunshine supplement has been strongly linked to ED, although there is no confirmed explanation as to why this is. A study found that men with a vitamin D deficiency were 34 per cent more like to have ED than men with adequate vitamin D levels .
Vitamin B3 - Also known as niacin, the vitamin has been shown to aid blood flow and decrease inflammation, both underlying causes of ED and high cholesterol. Daily consumption of niacin has been shown to improve erectile performance, particularly in men who also have high cholesterol. B vitamins are also responsible for making sex hormones in the brain, which can help aid overall sexual arousal and performance .
Folic Acid - Also known as vitamin B9, plays an important role in the metabolism of nitric oxide and homocysteine (another amino acid). The supplementation of folic acid aids the synthesis of homocysteine into other useful compounds, therefore, shortages of folic acid result in an accumulation of homocysteine which has been shown to induce ED .
Ginkgo Biloba - This Chinese herb that helps aid blood flow and therefore oxygen carried to the brain, has shown to aid erectile ability in rats, but currently, there is little research on humans. However, this supplement has been linked to aiding erectile performance in men whose ED is caused by other medications, particularly antidepressants.
They say prevention is better than cure. Therefore it appears by living a healthy active lifestyle while maintaining a healthy diet is the best way to avoid developing ED. If you do start to experience problems trying one or a number of the tips and supplements above may do the trick. However, we always recommend seeking professional in addition to the advice given above.