"The problem with alternative treatments for any medical problem, including erectile dysfunction, is that until you have about 20 well-controlled studies over several years, you really don't know what you are working with," cautions Richard Harris, MD, a urologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for intercourse. Because ED can have a strong psychological component, counseling with a psychotherapist or sex therapist often works. However, more often ED is a symptom of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which can impair blood supply to the penis. In addition, many medications interfere with sexual functioning.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the persistent inability to attain and maintain an erection that is sufficient to permit satisfactory sexual performance (1). The current pharmaco-therapeutic research in ED focuses on underlying endothelial dysfunction as the root cause for ED and introduction of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors to potentiate nitric oxide (NO) action and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation, has revolutionized modern ED treatment over the past two decades (2). In contrast to Western Medicine, the traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) aims at restoration and better overall bodily regulation with medicine to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs such as kidney, spleen and liver; to enhance physical fitness, increase sexual drive, stabilize the mind and improve the overall situation resulting in natural and harmonious sexual life (3).
Korean red ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng or Chinese ginseng, is believed to be a highly effective natural remedy for treating ED. It is a traditional Asian remedy for sexual dysfunction and is widely used in the United States. Studies have shown that red ginseng can have significant therapeutic effects on penile rigidity and girth, libido, and patient satisfaction. It also has a reassuring safety profile, making it one of the most popular and proven natural remedy for ED.12
Persons with metabolic syndrome can be identified by a distinct pattern of abdominal obesity (waist circumference >40 inches in men), atherogenic dyslipidemia (triglycerides ≥150 mg per 100 ml, HDL <40 mg per 100 ml, small LDL particles and normal or slightly elevated LDL), hypertension (≥130/85 mm Hg), insulin resistance (fasting blood glucose ≥10 0 mg per 100 ml), and elevated levels of prothrombotic and proinflammatory markers. Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are closely linked to ED. In one recently conducted study of 120 men with ED and no evidence of diabetes, 40% of patients fulfilled strict criteria for metabolic syndrome, and 73% were insulin resistant.12

Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
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Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
Deer velvet is a covering found on the growing bone and cartilage of deer’s antlers. In Eastern medicine, deer velvet is sought after for its Chinese medicinal properties which include boosting one’s endurance and improving one’s immunity. People have also used deer velvet as an aphrodisiac or to treat ED. The randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study on deer velvet by Conaglen et al. (31), no benefit but this study was underpowered involving healthy participants with no sexual dysfunction.
Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. "It's not a great drug," says McCullough. "And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version." What's more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
Move a muscle, but we're not talking about your biceps. A strong pelvic floor enhances rigidity during erections and helps keep blood from leaving the penis by pressing on a key vein. In a British trial, three months of twice-daily sets of Kegel exercises (which strengthen these muscles), combined with biofeedback and advice on lifestyle changes — quitting smoking, losing weight, limiting alcohol — worked far better than just advice on lifestyle changes.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
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