While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western medicine and TCM (see Table 1).
Another natural treatment for erectile dysfunction to consider would be vitamin E. This is a vitamin that has been linked to chronic diseases in the past due to the antioxidant effects of this vitamin. Considering ED could be a manifestation of another chronic condition, it makes sense that vitamin E may have a role in reducing the symptoms of the disease. As a person ages, it is natural for the body to undergo more oxidative stress and damage as cells do not function as well as they once did. Rats who were given supplemental vitamin E were found to have reduced levels of oxidative damage to their tissues and had levels of NO and other factors that help induce an erection more similar to younger rats compared to rats without vitamin E supplementation. If patients incorporate vitamin E into their vitamins and dietary supplements for ED, their ED should improve. 
For obvious reasons, ED can be a sensitive subject, one that until relatively recently men were more likely to try to hide than to deal with. Fortunately, a deeper understanding of the variety of causes of erectile dysfunction has led to medications, therapies, and other treatments that can be more individualized and more likely to be effective—and more open discussion about addressing the concern.
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.
Ginkgo biloba may increase blood flow to the penis. Researchers discovered the effect of gingko on ED when male participants in a memory enhancement study reported improved erections. Another trial saw improvement in sexual function in 76 percent of the men who were on antidepressant medication. This is why researchers believe that ginkgo may be effective for men who are experiencing ED due to medication.
Another common cause of ED for many men is stress. When the body is under stress—either mental or physical—the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, releasing a cascade of stress hormones. Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of these hormones, which can lead to weight gain around the middle, and remember, those excess fat cells convert testosterone to estrogen. Stress also reduces sexual drive and leaves very little physical energy for sex. If chronic stress is a problem, try these supplements:
In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.
The same device is considered a vacuum erectile device (VED), when it is used to increase inflow of the blood to the penis without a constriction band. Regular use of VED in post-prostatectomy patient increases penile oxygenation and is accepted as a valid option in penile rehabilitation. Recent study reported transient increase in oxygenation to the glans penis and corporal bodies were detected by oximetry after VED was applied, providing proof for possible role for VED to counter the early penile hypoxia, cavernosal fibrosis and long-term ED after radical prostatectomy (9).
Ginkgo Biloba is promoted to treat conditions ranging from hypertension to Alzheimer’s dementia. There is evidence that shows improvement of memory enhancements in the geriatric population (47), improvement in terms of cognitive function via effect on cerebral vasculature (48), improvement of claudication distance and cutaneous ulcers in patients with peripheral vascular disease (49). Ginkgo Biloba extract is proposed to induce NO in endothelial cells and thus causing relaxation of vascular smooth muscles. Animal studies have reported relaxation of rabbit corpus cavernosal smooth muscle cells with the use of Ginkgo Biloba (50). Adverse effects include headaches, major bleeding (in patient who are taking warfarin concurrently) and seizures with reported fatality (36).
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
To understand the physiology of erectile dysfunction, we need to know erection first. An erection occurs when impulses from the brain and genital nerves cause blood to fill the two chambers known as the corpora cavernosa in the male penis. This causes the penis to expand and stiffen. Anything that blocks these impulses or restricts blood flow to the penis can result in ED. This block may be caused by psychological, neurologic, hormonal, arterial, or cavernosal impairment or even from a combination of all these factors.3
On any matter relating to your health or well-being, please check with an appropriate health professional. No statement herein is to be construed as a diagnosis, treatment, preventative, or cure for any disease, disorder or abnormal physical state. The statements herein have not been evaluated by the Foods and Drugs Administration or Health Canada. Dr. Marchione and the doctors on the Bel Marra Health Editorial Team are compensated by Bel Marra Health for their work in creating content, consulting along with formulating and endorsing products.
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.
10 ways of knowing that you are properly squeezing your pelvic floor muscles (PFM): 1) The base of your penis retracts inwards towards the pubic bone as you contract your PFM. 2) The testes rise towards the groin as you contract your PFM. 3) When you place your index and middle fingers in the midline between the scrotum and anus you feel these muscles tighten as you contract your PFM. 4) You can pucker your anus (not the gluteal muscles) as you contract your PFM. You feel the anus tighten and pull up and in, known as “anal wink.” 5) You get the same feeling as you do when you are ejaculating when you contract your PFM. 6) When you touch your erect penis, you feel the erectile cylinders surge with blood as you contract your PFM. 7) You can make your erect penis elevate (lift and point) as you contract your PFM. 8) You can stop your urinary stream completely when you contract your PFM. 9) You can push out the last few drops of urine that remain after completing urination when you contract your PFM. 10) After pursuing PFM training, you notice improvements in erectile rigidity and durability as well as better quality ejaculations, ejaculatory control and improvement in urinary control.
L-arginine, an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps make nitric oxide, supports a successful erection. Nitric oxide is responsible for making the blood vessels relax, which helps sustain an erection for men. A 1999 study, observed the effects of six weeks of high-dose (5 grams/day) orally administered nitric oxide (NO) donor L-arginine on men with organic ED. Thirty-one percent of those who took 5 grams/day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function. Burns told Medical Daily, “l-arginine and deer antler velvet” have been the most popular go-to natural treatments for men.
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
Qigong is a form of breathing exercises commonly practised in Asia to maintain health (53). In a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan, individuals practising Qigong demonstrate higher SF-36 scores in the domains of physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health and vitality (54). Techniques to concentrate the energy or qi in the pelvis or genitals are regularly practised, but the effects of Qigong on ED have not been studied.
By far the most common cause of ED is vascular dysfunction. When the arteries that supply the penis with blood to achieve and maintain an erection are blocked or hardened, or the lining of these arteries are damaged, blood flow is reduced. Vascular dysfunction not only affects the small arteries of the penis, but the larger coronary arteries of the heart too. Astute doctors now recognize that ED may actually be an early warning sign of impending cardiovascular disease, showing up several years before a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke.2 To maintain healthy vascular function, and in turn, normal erectile function, consider these supplements:
The Epimedium plant is a flowering perennial found throughout Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. Horny Goat Weed’s active ingredient is icariin, a falvonol glycoside and reputed to improve cardiovascular function, hormone regulation, modulation of immunological function and antitumor activity (44). Icariin has also been shown to have a PDE5i effect. Animal studies have been carried out showing improvements in penile hemodynamic parameters. There is one report of tachyarrhythmia and hypomania with the use of this herb (45).
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Eastern medicine should be fully exploited, and integrated with modern medicine to combine the advantages of both TCM and Western medicine. More research should be conducted into the efficacy and safety of TCM, and integration of TCM and Western medicine may provide promising breakthroughs in future clinical treatment. This strategy may allow for the development of new therapeutic strategies based on concepts of TCM and integrated medicine. There is a need for multimodal therapy and holistic approach to treat men (and their partners) with ED through complementary use of herbal supplements and modern drug to optimize underlying medical comorbidities; acupuncture, exercise or massage to reduce stress and strengthen the body; introduction and escalation of various medical therapy with use of mechanical therapy to further enhance penile erection; and lastly surgical intervention in suboptimal or refractory ED cases.
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Long considered an aphrodisiac by the Chinese, ginseng may do more than just rev your engine. A 2013 South Korean study found that taking the herb for just a few weeks improved guys’ performance in the bedroom, including helping them last longer before finishing. Meanwhile, a study in Spermatogenesis found that ginseng can also help make for harder, longer-lasting erections and improve testosterone levels, which in turn boosts libido. “Ginseng is a promising herbal therapy for ED because it helps promote relaxation of smooth muscle in the penis, increase dopamine levels in the brain, and increase pressure in the cavernosal nerves of the penis which helps nitric oxide synthesis,” Walker explains.
Cavallini, G., Modenini, F., Vitali, G., & Koverech, A. (2005, November). Acetyl-L-carnitine plus propionyl-L-carnitine improve efficacy of sildenafil in treatment of erectile dysfunction after bilateral nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy. Urology, 66(5), 1080-5. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429505006515