Sometimes low libido or sexual dysfunction can occur due to low testosterone levels. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a testosterone supplement. Your body usually can produce adequate testosterone, but it needs downtime to convert precursor hormones into testosterone. If you’re burning the candle at both ends, your body will convert those precursors into cortisol instead. So rest, relax, and allow your body to build up its testosterone stores.
With drug therapy, there’s a risk of side effects such as headaches, back pain or an upset stomach. Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction it is important to ensure your doctor is ok with that decision. Medication may not work for all men, for instance, if you have diabetes or have previously had prostate surgery. ED medication might also have serious risks if you’re currently taking nitrates (commonly prescribed for chest pain), have heart disease or have low blood pressure.22
While there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence that supports using herbs to increase sexual urges, most of these supplements won’t hurt you. Try classic libido-enhancing herbs like maca, tribulus, rhodiola, ginseng, omega-3s, DHEA, and L-arginine. But be sure to consult your doctor first if you take blood thinners or other medications for heart health.
L-arginine, or arginine, is an amino acid found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products that helps expand blood vessels and increase blood flow. “The body uses this semi-essential amino acid as the primary building block for nitric oxide,” explains Harry Fisch, M.D., clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital.
For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.
The natural remedy to ED is a healthy lifestyle that can “reverse” ED naturally, as opposed to “managing” it. Since ED can be considered a “chronic disease,” healthy lifestyle choices can reverse it, prevent its progression and even prevent its onset. Since sexual functioning is based upon many body components working harmoniously (central and peripheral nervous system, hormone system, blood vessel system, smooth and skeletal muscles), the first-line approach is to nurture every cell, tissue and organ in the body. This translates to achieving “fighting” weight, adopting a smart heart-healthy and penis-healthy diet (whole foods, nutrient-dense, calorie-light, avoiding processed and refined junk foods), exercising moderately, losing the tobacco habit, consuming alcohol in moderation, stress reduction (yoga, meditation, massage, hot baths, whatever it takes, etc.), and getting adequate quantity and quality of sleep. Aside from general exercises (cardio, core, strength and flexibility training), specific pelvic floor muscle exercises (“man-Kegels”) are beneficial to improve the strength, power and endurance of the penile “rigidity” muscles. If a healthy lifestyle can be adopted, sexual function will often improve dramatically, in parallel to overall health improvements. Since many medications have side effects that negatively impact sexual function, a bonus of lifestyle improvement is potentially needing lower dosages or perhaps eliminating medications (blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetic meds, etc.), which can further improve sexual function. Eat real food and avoid refined, over-processed, nutritionally-empty foods and be moderate with the consumption of animal fats and dairy. Processed meats and charred meats should be avoided. A healthy diet should include whole grains and plenty of vegetables and fruits, particularly those that contain powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).
L-arginine. L-arginine is an important amino acid that the body needs to build proteins. Because L-arginine has been shown to improve blood flow, some alternative practitioners have recommended that the supplements be used to treat ED. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which is a reliable authority on alternative medicines, says L-arginine is possibly effective for treating erectile dysfunction. But Harris warns that "although this supplement could improve blood flow, side effects can be dangerous." L-arginine can cause an allergic reaction or worsen asthma in some people; it can also lower blood pressure.
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.